1. Merino sheep fed on a diet of chopped wheaten hay, chopped lucerne (Medicago saliva) hay and oat grain were the source of rumen contents for the study. The diet contained (mg/kg dry weight) 3.3 copper, 0.24 molybdenum and 2.8 sulphur. The effects of adding between 5 and 25 mg Mo/kg as ammonium molybdate (AM) or tetrathiomolybdate (TTM) on the distribution and forms of Cu and Mo in rumen contents were investigated in vivo and in vitro.
2. Approximately 88 % of the Cu and 94% of the Mo in rumen contents were associated with the solid phase. When AM or TTM was added to rumen contents in vivo or in vitro the proportion of these elements in the solid phase was increased at the expense of the fluid phase.
3. The addition of AM and TTM to rumen contents also decreased the proportion of Cu that was soluble in trichloroacetic acid (50 g/l; TCA) and increased the proportion of Cu that was not extractable by sequential treatment with TCA and neutral detergent.
4. Column chromatography of neutral-detergent extracts of rumen contents revealed that TTM treatment caused Cu to be strongly bound to proteins of high molecular weight.
5. Addition of sulphide to rumen contents did not result in significant changes in the distribution of Cu between the fluid and solid phases, or in the solubility of Cu in TCA.
6. It is postulated that constant removal of TTM from the fluid phase via reaction with proteins and other macromolecules in the solid phase results in greater formation of TTM in vivo than would be expected from solution chemistry. The molybdo-proteins so formed are strong chelators of Cu and may be the agents responsible for the decrease in Cu absorption in animals that consume diets containing high concentrations of Mo.
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