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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2010 Feb;298(2):G190-202. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00216.2009. Epub 2009 Nov 19.

Modulation of urea transport across sheep rumen epithelium in vitro by SCFA and CO2.

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Dept. of Veterinary Physiology, Free University of Berlin, Oertzenweg 19b, Berlin, Germany.


Urea transport across the gastrointestinal tract involves transporters of the urea transporter-B group, the regulation of which is poorly understood. The classical stimulatory effect of CO(2) and the effect of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) on the ruminal recycling of urea were investigated by using Ussing chamber and microelectrode techniques with isolated ruminal epithelium of sheep. The flux of urea was found to be phloretin sensitive and passive. At a luminal pH of 6.4, but not at 7.4, the addition of SCFA (40 mmol/l) or CO(2)/HCO3- (10% and 25 mmol/l) led to a fourfold increase in urea flux. The stepwise reduction of luminal pH in the presence of SCFA from 7.4 to 5.4 led to a bell-shaped modification of urea transport, with a maximum at pH 6.2. Lowering the pH in the absence of SCFA or CO(2) had no effect. Inhibition of Na(+)/H(+) exchange increased urea flux at pH 7.4, with a decrease being seen at pH 6.4. In experiments with double-barreled, pH-sensitive microelectrodes, we confirmed the presence of an apical pH microclimate and demonstrated the acidifying effects of SCFA on the underlying epithelium. We confirm that the permeability of the ruminal epithelium to urea involves a phloretin-sensitive pathway. We present clear evidence for the regulation of urea transport by strategies that alter intracellular pH, with permeability being highest after a moderate decrease. The well-known postprandial stimulation of urea transport to the rumen in vivo may involve acute pH-dependent effects of intraruminal SCFA and CO(2) on the function of existing urea transporters.

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