Dietary modulation of intestinal enzymes of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus): testing an adaptive hypothesis

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2000 Jan;125(1):11-24. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(99)00163-4.


Insectivorous/frugivorous passerine species studied so far lack the ability to modulate intestinal maltase activity, in contrast to galliformes. We tested for dietary modulation of small intestine (SI) enzymes including maltase in house sparrows to understand whether the difference between the galliformes on the one hand, and the passerines on the other, reflects a phylogenetic pattern (maltase modulated in galliformes but not passerines), a dietary pattern (maltase modulated in granivores but not insectivore/frugivores), some other pattern, or chance. We also tested the prediction that intestinal peptidase activity would be increased on a high protein (HP) diet. Birds were fed three diets high in starch, protein, or lipid for 10 days. For birds on the HP diet (60.3% protein) we observed the predicted upward modulation of aminopeptidase-N activity, as compared with the lower-protein, high starch (HS) (12.8% protein) diet. In contrast, birds eating the HS diet had similar maltase and sucrase activities, and only slightly higher isomaltase activity, compared with birds eating the high protein (HP), starch-free diet. Birds eating high lipid (HL) diet had low activities of both carbohydrases and peptidase. Considering that the statistical power of our tests was adequate, we conclude that house sparrows show little or no increase in carbohydrases in response to elevated dietary carbohydrate. We cannot reject the hypothesis that maltase lability among avian species has a phylogenetic component, or that high dietary fat has a depressing effect on both carbohydrase and peptidase activities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • CD13 Antigens / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrolysis
  • Intestine, Small / enzymology*
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Oligo-1,6-Glucosidase / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Songbirds / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity
  • Sucrase / metabolism
  • alpha-Glucosidases / metabolism*


  • Dietary Fats
  • Oligo-1,6-Glucosidase
  • alpha-Glucosidases
  • Sucrase
  • CD13 Antigens