Androgen-dependent proteins (lipocalins) circulate in blood of male rats and mice and, being small (~ 18 kDa), pass freely into glomerular filtrate. Some are salvaged in proximal nephrons but some escape in urine. Several organic molecules can bind to these proteins causing, where salvage occurs, nephropathy including malignancy in renal cortex. In urine, both free lipocalins and ligands contribute to an increasingly-recognised vital biological role in social communication between adults, especially in the dark where reliance is on smell and taste. Crystal structure of the first-characterised lipocalin of male rats, alpha2u-globulin, has been determined and peptide sequences for others are available, but no study of occurrence during early puberty has been made. We have followed temporal occurrence in urine of juveniles (n = 3) for non-invasive pilot study by high resolution gradient mini-gel electrophoresis, tryptic digest of excised protein bands, and LC-MS/MS of digest to identify peptide fragments and assign to specific lipocalins. Study objective refers directly to external availability for social communication but also indirectly to indicate kinetics of circulating lipocalins to which some xenobiotics may bind and constitute determinants of renal disease.
Mini-gels revealed greater lipocalin complexity than hitherto recognised, possibly reflecting post-translational modifications. Earliest patterns comprised rat urinary protein 1, already evident in Sprague-Dawley and Wistar strains at 36 and 52 days, respectively. By 44 and 57 days major rat protein (alpha2u-globulin) occurred as the progressively more dominant protein, though as two forms with different electrophoretic mobility, characterised by seven peptide sequences. No significant change in urinary testosterone had occurred in Wistars when major rat protein became evident, but testosterone surged by 107 days concomitant with the marked abundance of excreted lipocalins.
Qualitative temporal changes in the composition of excreted lipocalins early in puberty, and apparent increase in major urinary protein as two resolvable forms, should catalyse systematic non-invasive study of urinary lipocalin and testosterone dynamics from early age, to illuminate this aspect of laboratory rodent social physiology. It could also define the potential temporal onset of nephrotoxic ligand risk, applicable to young animals used as toxicological models.