Intestinal Lymphatic Transport: an Overlooked Pathway for Understanding Absorption of Plant Secondary Compounds in Vertebrate Herbivores


Herbivores employ numerous strategies to reduce their exposure to toxic plant secondary chemicals (PSCs). However, the physiological mechanisms of PSC absorption have not been extensively explored. In particular, the absorption of PSCs via intestinal lymphatic absorption has been largely overlooked in herbivores, even though this pathway is well recognized for pharmaceutical uptake. Here, we investigated for the first time whether PSCs might be absorbed by lymphatic transport. We fed woodrats (Neotoma albigula) diets with increasing concentrations of terpene-rich juniper (Juniperus monosperma) either with or without a compound that blocks intestinal lymphatic absorption (Pluronic L-81). Woodrats consuming diets that contained the intestinal lymphatic absorption blocker exhibited increased food intakes and maintained higher body masses on juniper diets. Our study represents the first demonstration that PSCs may be absorbed by intestinal lymphatic absorption. This absorption pathway has numerous implications for the metabolism and distribution of PSCs in the systemic circulation, given that compounds absorbed via lymphatic transport bypass first-pass hepatic metabolism. The area of lymphatic transport of PSCs represents an understudied physiological pathway in plant-herbivore interactions.

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We are thankful to BASF Corporation for supplying us with a small sample of Pluronic L-81 for this study. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (IOS 1256383 to MDD, DEB 1210094 to MDD and KDK, and DBI 1400456 to K.D.K).

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Correspondence to Kevin D. Kohl.

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Kohl, K.D., Dearing, M.D. Intestinal Lymphatic Transport: an Overlooked Pathway for Understanding Absorption of Plant Secondary Compounds in Vertebrate Herbivores. J Chem Ecol 43, 290–294 (2017).

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  • Herbivory
  • Lymphatic absorption
  • Plant-herbivore interactions
  • Plant secondary metabolites