Early stages of animal development have high mass-specific rates of metabolism. The biochemical processes that establish metabolic rate and how these processes change during development are not understood. In this study, changes in Na+/K+-ATPase activity (the sodium pump) and rate of oxygen consumption were measured during embryonic and early larval development for two species of sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and Lytechinus pictus. Total (in vitro) Na+/K+-ATPase activity increased during development and could potentially account for up to 77 % of larval oxygen consumption in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (pluteus stage) and 80 % in Lytechinus pictus (prism stage). The critical issue was addressed of what percentage of total enzyme activity is physiologically active in living embryos and larvae and thus what percentage of metabolism is established by the activity of the sodium pump during development. Early developmental stages of sea urchins are ideal for understanding the in vivo metabolic importance of Na+/K+-ATPase because of their small size and high permeability to radioactive tracers (86Rb+) added to sea water. A comparison of total and in vivo Na+/K+-ATPase activities revealed that approximately half of the total activity was utilized in vivo. The remainder represented a functionally active reserve that was subject to regulation, as verified by stimulation of in vivo Na+/K+-ATPase activity in the presence of the ionophore monensin. In the presence of monensin, in vivo Na+/K+-ATPase activities in embryos of S. purpuratus increased to 94 % of the maximum enzyme activity measured in vitro. Stimulation of in vivo Na+/K+-ATPase activity was also observed in the presence of dissolved alanine, presumably due to the requirement to remove the additional intracellular Na+ that was cotransported with alanine from sea water. The metabolic cost of maintaining the ionic balance was found to be high, with this process alone accounting for 40 % of the metabolic rate of sea urchin larvae (based on the measured fraction of total Na+/K+-ATPase that is physiologically active in larvae of S. purpuratus). Ontogenetic changes in pump activity and environmentally induced regulation of reserve Na+/K+-ATPase activity are important factors that determine a major proportion of the metabolic costs of sea urchin development.

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