Vitamin B12 absorption and metabolism in milk-fed lambs

Vitamin B12 absorption and metabolism in milk-fed lambs
Peer reviewed

Abstract

AIM: To quantify aspects of absorption and retention of vitamin B12 from milk in pre-ruminant lambs, and the possible effect of activation of dependent metabolic pathways (propionate-succinate) on vitamin B12 concentrations in tissues.
METHODS: In Experiment 1, two groups of eight newborn lambs each received either milk substitute alone, or milk substitute with added propionate for 4 weeks. Half of the lambs in each group received vitamin B12 injections twice weekly. Blood and liver samples were taken on Day –1 and at the end of the trial, and blood was also collected twice weekly, for measurement in plasma of vitamin B12, methylmalonic acid (MMA), and blood-binder transcobalamin II / haptocorrin. The lambs were weighed at 0, 2 and 4 weeks.
In Experiment 2, 12 milk-fed newborn lambs (n=2 or 3/group) were injected I/M with 0.2, 0.4, 0.8, 1.6 or 3.2 μg vitamin B12 and a further 12 were supplemented orally with 2, 4, 8, 16 or 32 μg vitamin B12, daily for 2 weeks. Three lambs remained as untreated controls. Blood and liver samples were taken at the start and end of the trial, and blood was also collected twice weekly, for measurement of vitamin B12 and MMA concentrations in plasma. The lambs were weighed on Days 0, 7 and 14.
In Experiment 3, 14 lambs from Experiment 2 were used to repeat the highest I/M and oral rates of supplementation used in Experiment 2. Blood samples were taken at frequent intervals for 24 hours, and analysed for concentrations of vitamin B12 in plasma.
RESULTS: Propionate supplementation was associated with increased concentrations of vitamin B12 in plasma in lambs supplemented with vitamin B12 but not in those not supplemented (p=0.047), but had no detectable effect on concentrations of vitamin B12 in liver (Experiment 1). Lambs with concentrations of vitamin B12 in plasma and liver in the marginal reference range were able to metabolise propionate and maintain normal concentrations of MMA at a rate of intake of propionate close to that which would depress appetite.
Close to 100% of the vitamin B12 administered by I/M injection appeared in plasma in the first hour but 85% was removed from the circulation within 16 hours. The maximum liver concentration was achieved at 900 nmol/kg (=1,200 μg) fresh tissue.
There were no significant differences in liveweight gain (LWG) regardless of treatment.
CONCLUSIONS: Lambs with concentrations of vitamin B12 in plasma and liver in the marginal reference range were able to metabolise propionate and maintain normal concentrations of MMA in plasma at a rate of absorption of propionate close to that which would depress appetite. The coefficient of absorption of oral vitamin B12 in milk-fed lambs was low (<10%), and the ability of lambs to retain the vitamin even when tissues had physiologically low concentrations was poor.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Pre-ruminant lambs had a low requirement for vitamin B12, and even at low tissue concentrations had poor ability to absorb and retain the vitamin. However, if supplementation is required, a method that provides a modest but continual supply may be most effective in protection against deficiency.
KEY WORDS: Pre-ruminant lamb, vitamin B12, plasma, liver, methylmalonic acid, absorption, propionate, transcobalamin II, haptocorrin

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