Adaptation of nitrogen metabolism to hyperosmotic environment in Amphibia


  • John B. Balinsky

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Zoology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011
    • Department of Zoology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011
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A large number of species of Amphibia, both Anura and Urodela, are capable of tolerating a moderately saline environment. Rana cancrivora, Bufo viridis, and Xenopus laevis are among the most euryhaline frogs so far studied. Rana cancrivora can tolerate undiluted seawater. In a saline environment, Amphibia show raised plasma sodium and chloride and raised intracellular potassium and chloride. In the adults, plasma and tissue urea are elevated, especially in the more euryhaline species. Free amino acids contribute negligibly to plasma osmolarity, but are very important in intracellular fluids. By these various means, the osmotic pressure of body fluids is always maintained at a higher level than that of the surroundings. Larval Amphibia, however, do not make urea; Rana cancrivora tadpoles can live in saltwater, but maintain the osmolarity of their body fluids below that of their surroundings.

Adaptive responses to hyperosmolar environment include decreased skin sodium transport, greatly reduced urine flow, and release of posterior pituitary hormones. After the initial response, the release of these hormones declines, and urine flow increases. Accumulation of urea occurs slowly, but this substance plays an increasingly important role as adaptation proceeds. Accumulation is due initially to urea retention, and possibly to greater synthesis due to a high concentration of precursors of the urea cycle. In later stages of adaptation, increased urea synthesis is due to elevated levels of urea cycle enzymes, especially those that appear to have been rate-limiting. Liver glutamate dehydrogenase is also elevated. In animals subjected to pure osmotic stress, in solutions not containing sodium, responses are similar to, but not identical with, those caused by a medium containing sodium chloride.