Tracking the oxidative kinetics of carbohydrates, amino acids and fatty acids in the house sparrow using exhaled 13CO2

M. D. McCue, O. Sivan, S. R. McWilliams, B. Pinshow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Clinicians commonly measure the 13CO2 in exhaled breath samples following administration of a metabolic tracer (breath testing) to diagnose certain infections and metabolic disorders. We believe that breath testing can become a powerful tool to investigate novel questions about the influence of ecological and physiological factors on the oxidative fates of exogenous nutrients. Here we examined several predictions regarding the oxidative kinetics of specific carbohydrates, amino acids and fatty acids in a dietary generalist, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). After administering postprandial birds with 20 mg of one of seven 13Clabeled tracers, we measured rates of 13CO2 production every 15 min over 2 h. We found that sparrows oxidized exogenous amino acids far more rapidly than carbohydrates or fatty acids, and that different tracers belonging to the same class of physiological fuels had unique oxidative kinetics. Glycine had a mean maximum rate of oxidation (2021 nmol min-1) that was significantly higher than that of leucine (351 nmol min-1), supporting our prediction that nonessential amino acids are oxidized more rapidly than essential amino acids. Exogenous glucose and fructose were oxidized to a similar extent (5.9% of dose), but the time required to reach maximum rates of oxidation was longer for fructose. The maximum rates of oxidation were significantly higher when exogenous glucose was administered as an aqueous solution (122 nmol min-1), rather than as an oil suspension (93 nmol min-1), supporting our prediction that exogenous lipids negatively influence rates of exogenous glucose oxidation. Dietary fatty acids had the lowest maximum rates of oxidation (2-6 nmol min-1), and differed significantly in the extent to which each was oxidized, with 0.73%, 0.63% and 0.21% of palmitic, oleic and stearic acid tracers oxidized, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-789
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2010


  • Birds
  • Carbon stable isotope
  • Catabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Metabolic rates
  • Nutrition
  • Physiological fuels
  • β-oxidation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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