Excess Dietary L-Cysteine, but Not L-Cystine, Is Lethal for Chicks but Not for Rats or Pigs

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A comparative species investigation of the relative pharmacologic effects of sulfur amino acids was conducted using young chicks, rats, and pigs. Ingestion of excess Met, Cys, or Cys-Cys supplemented at 2.5-, 5.0-, 7.5-, or 10 times the dietary requirement in a corn-soybean meal diet depressed chick growth to varying degrees. Strikingly, ingestion of excess Cys at 30 g/kg Cys (7.5-times the dietary requirement) caused a chick mortality rate of 50% after only 5 d of feeding. Growth was restored and chick mortality was reduced by supplementing diets containing 25 g/kg excess Cys with KHCO3 at 10 g/kg. Additionally, mortality was prevented by supplementing the drinking water of chicks receiving 25 g/kg supplemental Cys with H2O2 (0.05% final concentration). After young rats and pigs consumed excess Cys or Cys-Cys up to 40 g/kg for 14 d, weight gain was severely depressed, but we observed no mortality. An excess of dietary Cys-Cys ≥48 g/kg caused some mortality in rats. Pigs exhibited rapid recovery from growth-depressing excesses of Cys or Cys-Cys. These results lend credence to the acute toxic effects associated with the ingestion of excess sulfur amino acids and highlight the potential for excess dietary cyst(e)ine to be more pernicious than Met in certain species. J. Nutr. 137: 331-338, 2007.

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