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The jawless fish, the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), spends part of its life as a burrow-dwelling, suspension-feeding larva (ammocoete) before undergoing a metamorphosis into a free swimming, parasitic juvenile that feeds on the blood of fishes. We predicted that animals in this juvenile, parasitic stage have a great capacity for catabolizing amino acids when large quantities of protein-rich blood are ingested. The sixfold to 20-fold greater ammonia excretion rates (JAmm) in postmetamorphic (nonfeeding) and parasitic lampreys compared with ammocoetes suggested that basal rates of amino acid catabolism increased following metamorphosis. This was likely due to a greater basal amino acid catabolizing capacity in which there was a sixfold higher hepatic glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) activity in parasitic lampreys compared with ammocoetes. Immunoblotting also revealed that GDH quantity was 10-fold and threefold greater in parasitic lampreys than in ammocoetes and upstream migrant lampreys, respectively. Higher hepatic alanine and aspartate aminotransferase activities in the parasitic lampreys also suggested an enhanced amino acid catabolizing capacity in this life stage. In contrast to parasitic lampreys, the twofold larger free amino acid pool in the muscle of upstream migrant lampreys confirmed that this period of natural starvation is accompanied by a prominent proteolysis. Carbamoyl phosphate synthetase III was detected at low levels in the liver of parasitic and upstream migrant lampreys, but there was no evidence of extrahepatic (muscle, intestine) urea production via the ornithine urea cycle. However, detection of arginase activity and high concentrations of arginine in the liver at all life stages examined infers that arginine hydrolysis is an important source of urea. We conclude that metamorphosis is accompanied by a metabolic reorganization that increases the capacity of parasitic sea lampreys to catabolize intermittently large amino acid loads arising from the ingestion of protein rich blood from their prey/hosts. The subsequent generation of energy-rich carbon skeletons can then be oxidized or retained for glycogen and fatty acid synthesis, which are essential fuels for the upstream migratory and spawning phases of the sea lamprey’s life cycle.


This article was originally published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 79(5): 885-898. © 2006 The University of Chicago Press