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PLoS One. 2010 Nov 2;5(11):e13808. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013808.

Characteristic metabolism of free amino acids in cetacean plasma: cluster analysis and comparison with mice.

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Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology, Azabu University, Sagamihara, Japan.


From an evolutionary perspective, the ancestors of cetaceans first lived in terrestrial environments prior to adapting to aquatic environments. Whereas anatomical and morphological adaptations to aquatic environments have been well studied, few studies have focused on physiological changes. We focused on plasma amino acid concentrations (aminograms) since they show distinct patterns under various physiological conditions. Plasma and urine aminograms were obtained from bottlenose dolphins, pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso's dolphins, false-killer whales and C57BL/6J and ICR mice. Hierarchical cluster analyses were employed to uncover a multitude of amino acid relationships among different species, which can help us understand the complex interrelations comprising metabolic adaptations. The cetacean aminograms formed a cluster that was markedly distinguishable from the mouse cluster, indicating that cetaceans and terrestrial mammals have quite different metabolic machinery for amino acids. Levels of carnosine and 3-methylhistidine, both of which are antioxidants, were substantially higher in cetaceans. Urea was markedly elevated in cetaceans, whereas the level of urea cycle-related amino acids was lower. Because diving mammals must cope with high rates of reactive oxygen species generation due to alterations in apnea/reoxygenation and ischemia-reperfusion processes, high concentrations of antioxidative amino acids are advantageous. Moreover, shifting the set point of urea cycle may be an adaptation used for body water conservation in the hyperosmotic sea water environment, because urea functions as a major blood osmolyte. Furthermore, since dolphins are kept in many aquariums for observation, the evaluation of these aminograms may provide useful diagnostic indices for the assessment of cetacean health in artificial environments in the future.

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