Merino sheep were given abomasal infusions of various amino acids or mixtures of amino acids. Effects on wool growth were measured using autoradiography or a clipping procedure and changes in the concentration of amino acids in plasma were measured in some experiments.
Mixtures of five (28 g/day) or ten (45 g/day) essential amino acids (both mixtures containing 3 g methionine) stimulated wool growth of sheep receiving a maintenance ration; on average, the volume of wool grown increased 48% and 86%, respectively. When cysteine completely replaced methionine in these mixtures, wool growth was markedly reduced, but two-thirds of the methionine could be replaced by cysteine without affecting wool growth. Homocysteine was partially effective in replacing methionine and, when supplemented with betaine, folic acid and vitamin B12, the mixture was still significantly inferior to that containing methionine. In contrast, abomasal supplements of methionine or homocysteine alone were equivalent as supplements for wool growth. The results indicated a specific role for methionine in the control of wool growth, other than the provision of cysteine. This role was postulated to be related to some function of S-adenosylmethionine.
Infusion often essential amino acids caused appreciable increases in the concentrations of cystine, methionine, cystathionine and taurine in plasma; total essential amino acids increased threefold whereas nonessential amino acids decreased in concentration. The replacement of methionine in the infusion by cysteine or homocysteine significantly altered the concentration of cystine, methionine and cystathionine in plasma.
Evidence was obtained that the adverse effects on wool growth of high abomasal doses of methionine (10g/day) could not be reduced or prevented by provision of additional glycine and were not related to the supposed toxic effects of 3-methylthiopropionic acid, a metabolite of the transamination pathway.