Ruminant Nutrition Symposium: Role of fermentation acid absorption in the regulation of ruminal pH

J Anim Sci. 2011 Apr;89(4):1092-107. doi: 10.2527/jas.2010-3301. Epub 2010 Oct 15.


Highly fermentable diets are rapidly converted to organic acids [i.e., short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and lactic acid] within the rumen. The resulting release of protons can constitute a challenge to the ruminal ecosystem and animal health. Health disturbances, resulting from acidogenic diets, are classified as subacute and acute acidosis based on the degree of ruminal pH depression. Although increased acid production is a nutritionally desired effect of increased concentrate feeding, the accumulation of protons in the rumen is not. Consequently, mechanisms of proton removal and their quantitative importance are of major interest. Saliva buffers (i.e., bicarbonate, phosphate) have long been identified as important mechanisms for ruminal proton removal. An even larger proportion of protons appears to be removed from the rumen by SCFA absorption across the ruminal epithelium, making efficiency of SCFA absorption a key determinant for the individual susceptibility to subacute ruminal acidosis. Proceeding initially from a model of exclusively diffusional absorption of fermentation acids, several protein-dependent mechanisms have been discovered over the last 2 decades. Although the molecular identity of these proteins is mostly uncertain, apical acetate absorption is mediated, to a major degree, via acetate-bicarbonate exchange in addition to another nitrate-sensitive, bicarbonate-independent transport mechanism and lipophilic diffusion. Propionate and butyrate also show partially bicarbonate-dependent transport modes. Basolateral efflux of SCFA and their metabolites has to be mediated primarily by proteins and probably involves the monocarboxylate transporter (MCT1) and anion channels. Although the ruminal epithelium removes a large fraction of protons from the rumen, it also recycles protons to the rumen via apical sodium-proton exchanger, NHE. The latter is stimulated by ruminal SCFA absorption and salivary Na(+) secretion and protects epithelial integrity. Finally, SCFA absorption also accelerates urea transport into the rumen, which via ammonium recycling, may remove protons from rumen to the blood. Ammonium absorption into the blood is also stimulated by luminal SCFA. It is suggested that the interacting transport processes for SCFA, urea, and ammonia represent evolutionary adaptations of ruminants to actively coordinate energy fermentation, protein assimilation, and pH regulation in the rumen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Acids / metabolism
  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Rumen / metabolism*
  • Ruminants / metabolism*


  • Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Ammonia