Mechanism of ammonia excretion in the freshwater leech Nephelopsis obscura: characterization of a primitive Rh protein and effects of high environmental ammonia.

Research paper by Alex R AR Quijada-Rodriguez, Jason R JR Treberg, Dirk D Weihrauch

Indexed on: 17 Jul '15Published on: 17 Jul '15Published in: American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology


Remarkably little is known about nitrogenous excretion in freshwater invertebrates. In the current study, the nitrogen excretion mechanism in the carnivorous ribbon leech, Nephelopsis obscura, was investigated. Excretion experiments showed that the ribbon leech is ammonotelic, excreting 166.0 ± 8.6 nmol·grams fresh weight (gFW)(-1)·h(-1) ammonia and 14.7 ± 1.9 nmol·gFW(-1)·h(-1) urea. Exposure to high and low pH hampered and enhanced, respectively, ammonia excretion rates, indicating an acid-linked ammonia trapping mechanism across the skin epithelia. Accordingly, compared with body tissues, the skin exhibited elevated mRNA expression levels of a newly identified Rhesus protein and at least in tendency the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase. Pharmacological experiments and enzyme assays suggested an ammonia excretion mechanism that involves the V-ATPase, Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase, and carbonic anhydrase, but not necessarily a functional microtubule system. Most importantly, functional expression studies of the identified Rh protein cloned from leech skin tissue revealed an ammonia transport capability of this protein when expressed in yeast. The leech Rh-ammonia transporter (NoRhp) is a member of the primitive Rh protein family, which is a sister group to the common ancestor of vertebrate ammonia-transporting Rh proteins. Exposure to high environmental ammonia (HEA) caused a new adjustment of body ammonia, accompanied with a decrease in NoRhp and Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase mRNA levels, but unaltered ammonia excretion rates. To our knowledge, this is only the second comprehensive study regarding the ammonia excretion mechanisms in a freshwater invertebrate, but our results show that basic processes of ammonia excretion appear to also be comparable to those found in freshwater fish, suggesting an early evolution of ionoregulatory mechanisms in freshwater organisms.