A mass balance approach to identify and compare differential routing of 13^C^-labeled carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins in vivo


All animals route assimilated nutrients to their tissues where they are used to support growth or are oxidized for energy. These nutrients are probably not allocated homogeneously among the various tissue and are more likely to be preferentially routed toward some tissues and away from others. Here we introduce an approach that allows researchers to identify and compare nutrient routing among different organs and tissues. We tested this approach by examining nutrient routing in birds. House sparrows Passer domesticus were fed a meal supplemented with one of seven 13^C^-labeled metabolic tracers representing three major classes of macronutrients, namely, carbohydrates, amino acids, and fatty acids. While these birds became postabsorptive (2 h after feeding), we quantified the isotopic enrichment of the lean and lipid fractions of several organs and tissues. We then compared the actual 13^C^ enrichment of various tissue fractions with the predictions of our model to identify instances where nutrients were differentially routed and found that different classes of macronutrients are uniquely routed throughout the body. Recently ingested amino acids were preferentially routed to the lean fraction of the liver, whereas exogenous carbohydrates were routed to the brain and the lipid fraction of the liver. Fatty acids were definitively routed to the heart and the liver, although high levels of palmitic acid were also recovered in the adipose tissue. Tracers belonging to the same class of molecules were not always routed identically, illustrating how this technique is also suited to examine differences in nonoxidative fates of closely related molecules. Overall, this general approach allows researchers to test heretofore unexamined predictions about how animals allocate the nutrients they ingest.

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches 84:506-513