The transport of nitrogen across the rumen epithelium is characterized by absorption of ammonia from the rumen and by an influx of urea into the rumen. The transport rates of both compounds are large and exhibit wide variation. The transport of ammonia occurs in two forms: in the lipophilic form as NH3, the magnitude of which is linearly related to the pH in the ruminal fluid at pH values above 7, while at a physiological pH of 6.5 or lower, ammonia is predominantly absorbed as NH4+ via putative potassium channels in the apical membrane. The uptake of NH4+ depends on the potential difference of the apical membrane, Pda, and shows competition with K uptake. The pathway for basolateral exit of NH4+ is unknown. Hence, the relative transport rates of NH3 or NH4+ are determined by the ruminal pH according to the Henderson–Hasselbalch equation. Transport of ammonia interacts with the transport of Na and Mg mainly via changes of the intracellular pH. Urea recycling into the rumen has been known for many years and the transport across the rumen epithelium is mediated via urea transporters in the luminal and basolateral membrane of the epithelium. Transport of urea occurs by simple diffusion, but is highly variable. A significant increase of urea influx is caused by the fermentation products CO2 and short-chain fatty acids. Conversely, there is some evidence of inhibition of urea influx by ruminal ammonia. The underlying mechanisms of this modulation of urea transport are unknown, but of considerable nutritional importance, and future research should be directed to this aspect of ruminal transport.
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