Arginine nutrition in neonatal pigs.
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The concentration of arginine (an essential amino acid for neonates) in sow's milk is remarkably low, and thus endogenous synthesis of arginine plays a crucial role in maintaining arginine homeostasis in milk-fed piglets. Paradoxically, intestinal synthesis of citrulline from glutamine/glutamate and proline (the endogenous source of arginine) declines markedly in 7- to 21-d-old suckling pigs, compared with 1- to 3-d-old pigs. Therefore, plasma concentrations of arginine and its immediate precursors (ornithine and citrulline) decrease progressively by 20-41%, whereas plasma ammonia levels increase progressively by 18-46%, between d 3 and 14 of life. Dietary supplementation of 0.2 and 0.4% arginine to 7- to 21-d-old pigs (artificially reared on a milk feeding system) dose dependently enhances the plasma arginine concentration (30 and 61%), reduces the plasma ammonia level (20 and 35%), and increases weight gain (28 and 66%). These compelling metabolic and growth data demonstrate unequivocally that arginine is insufficient for supporting the maximal growth in milk-fed young pigs and that this arginine deficiency represents a major obstacle to realizing the growth potential in piglets. A low concentration of mitochondrial N-acetylglutamate (an activator of both pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase and carbamoylphosphate synthase-I) is responsible for the striking decline in the intestinal synthesis of citrulline and arginine during the suckling period. Accordingly, oral administration of N-carbamoylglutamate [a metabolically stable analogue of N-acetylglutamate; 2 x 50 mg/(kg body wt . d)] enhances plasma arginine level (68%) and weight gain (61%) of 4- to 14-d-old sow-reared pigs. Thus, the metabolic activation of intestinal citrulline and arginine synthesis provides a novel, effective means to increase endogenous arginine provision and therefore piglet growth (a major goal of animal agriculture). Our findings not only generate new fundamental knowledge about amino acid utilization by neonatal pigs, but they also have important practical implications for improving the efficiency of pork production.