, Volume 183, Issue 7, pp 993-1003
Date: 03 May 2013

Whole-body protein turnover reveals the cost of detoxification of secondary metabolites in a vertebrate browser

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The detoxification limitation hypothesis predicts that the metabolism and biotransformation of plant secondary metabolites (PSMs) elicit a cost to herbivores. There have been many attempts to estimate these costs to mammalian herbivores in terms of energy, but this ignores what may be a more important cost—increases in protein turnover and concomitant losses of amino acids. We measured the effect of varying dietary protein concentrations on the ingestion of two PSMs (1,8 cineole—a monoterpene, and benzoic acid—an aromatic carboxylic acid) by common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). The dietary protein concentration had a small effect on how much cineole possums ingested. In contrast, protein had a large effect on how much benzoate they ingested, especially at high dietary concentrations of benzoate. This prompted us to measure the effects of dietary protein and benzoate on whole-body protein turnover using the end-product method following an oral dose of [15N] glycine. Increasing the concentration of dietary protein in diets without PSMs improved N balance but did not influence whole-body protein turnover. In contrast, feeding benzoate in a low-protein diet pushed animals into negative N balance. The concomitant increases in the rates of whole-body protein turnover in possums eating diets with more benzoate were indicative of a protein cost of detoxification. This was about 30 % of the dietary N intake and highlights the significant effects that PSMs can have on nutrient metabolism and retention.

Communicated by I.D. Hume.