Previous studies described that dietary PAD causes deficiency symptoms such as growth retardation, dermatosis, diarrhea, and even death in both mammals [2–6] and poultry [7–13, 19, 30]. In ducks, decreased weight gain and excessive exudate from the eyes were exhibited in response to PAD . In agreement with previous studies, the ducks fed the basal diet without pantothenic acid supplementation showed growth depression, exudate on eyelids, dermatosis, poor feathering, and a high mortality rate in the present study, indicating these ducks were pantothenic acid deficient. Furthermore, poor pantothenic acid status was found in PAD ducks indicated by a marked reduction of plasma pantothenic acid concentration, as tissue pantothenic acid is a useful biomarker for pantothenic acid status [21, 31, 32]. These results demonstrate that a severe PAD animal model was successfully established.
It has been shown that PA can keep the structure of intestine integrity and keep the function of intestine normal of animals [3, 14–16]. Insufficient of pantothenic acid would cause intestinal hypofunction in rats, dogs, cats, chicks and fish [4, 5, 17–21]. And a feature common to experimental PAD in different animals is ulceration of the intestine [4, 5, 17–20]. Duodenitis and duodenal ulcers , as well as duodenal changes including eventual atrophy of crypts, diminution in size of villi, were observed in PAD rats . In agreement with the previous studies, we observed small intestine morphological changes indicated by the reduced villus height and villus surface area in PAD ducks in the present study, indicating damage to the intestinal epithelium.
Furthermore, PAD leads to abnormalities in carbohydrate metabolism. Low fasting blood glucose levels and increased sensitivity to insulin were found in PAD rats and dogs [33–37]. In agreement with previous studies, PAD caused fasting hypoglycemia and decreased plasma insulin level in ducks in the present study, indicating abnormal glucose metabolism.
Together, dietary PAD of ducks resulted in growth retardation, alterations of intestinal morphology and function, and abnormal glucose metabolism. However, limited data are available currently concerning the molecular mechanisms behind. Therefore, we used a proteomic approach, for the first time, to investigate the metabolic disorder of small intestine induced by PAD to explain intestinal hypofunction and growth depression. Proteomic analysis revealed 421 differentially expressed proteins in the mucosa of PAD ducks compared to those that were adequately supplied with pantothenic acid, indicating an important impact of pantothenic acid on intestinal function. The identical proteins are mainly enriched in in glycolysis and gluconeogenesis, fatty acid beta oxidation, oxidative phosphorylation, TCA cycle, intestinal absorption, regulation of actin cytoskeleton, and oxidative stress. It is indicated that these processes to probably underlie the intestinal mucosa metabolic disorder and poor growth. Notably, the CoA-binding proteins were reduced in the intestinal mucosa of PAD ducks, such as ACSL5, ACAD11, ACADM, HADHB, ECI2, ACOX1, and ACOX2. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that CoA-binding protein may be downregulated due to a reduced supply of pantothenic acid in the diet.
Glycolysis and gluconeogenesis
A total of thirteen proteins participating in the glycolysis and gluconeogenesis pathway were differentially expressed after PAD, making it the largest category of identified proteins. Of these, twelve proteins were involved in glycolysis, two enhanced (ALDOA and HK1) and ten diminished (ALDOB, HKDC1, ENO1, GAPDH, PKM, PFKP, TPI1, PGK1, DLD, and PDHB). HKDC1 and HK1 are two isozymes of hexokinases, mediate the initial step of glycolysis by catalyzing phosphorylation of D-glucose to D-glucose 6-phosphate . PFKP catalyzes the phosphorylation of fructose 6-phosphate to fructose 1,6-bisphosphate by ATP . ALDOA and ALDOB are two isoforms of aldolase family which are located in skeletal muscle and liver tissue respectively, cleaves fructose-1,6-bisphosphate to triose phosphates . TPI1 catalyzes the interconversion between dihydroxyacetone phosphate and D-glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate . GAPDH catalyzes the conversion of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate into 1,3-diphosphoglycerate . PGK1 catalyzes one of the two ATP producing reactions in the glycolytic pathway via the reversible conversion of 1,3-diphosphoglycerate to 3-phosphoglycerate . ENO1 catalyzes the formation of phosphoenolpyruvate from 2-phosphoglycerate . PKM catalyzes the second ATP generation reaction in the glycolytic pathway via conversion of phosphoenolpyruvate to pyruvate . PDHB is a subunit of pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1). DLD (E3) is a common component of pyruvate dehydrogenase complexe, converting dihydrolipoic acid and NAD+ into lipoic acid and NADH . Pyruvate dehydrogenase catalyzes the oxidative decarboxylation of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA, thereby linking glycolysis to the TCA cycle and fatty acid synthesis [47, 48]. Therefore, ten out of twelve proteins (ALDOB, HKDC1, ENO1, GAPDH, PKM, PFKP, TPI1, PGK1, DLD, and PDHB) were downregulated in the PAD group suggests that the rate of glycolysis in the intestinal mucosa may be impaired. Besides, one protein (FBP1) involved in gluconeogenesis process was downregulated by PAD. FBP1, a rate-limiting enzyme in gluconeogenesis, catalyzes the hydrolysis of fructose 1,6-bisphosphate to fructose 6-phosphate. The reduced expression of FBP1 in the PAD group probably indicates a decreased gluconeogenesis in the intestinal mucosa.
Fatty acid beta oxidation
In the present study, PAD downregulated 9 proteins involved in fatty acid beta oxidation, including ACSL5, ACAD11, ACADM, CRAT, DLD, HADHB, ECI2, ACOX1, and ACOX2. Notably, among these, ACSL5, ACAD11, ACADM, HADHB, ECI2, ACOX1, and ACOX2 are belong to CoA-binding proteins, which were all reduced due to PAD. ACSL5 belongs to the acyl-CoA synthetase family, which plays an important part in de novo lipid synthesis and fatty acid catabolism, catalyzing the initial fatty acid activation by forming a thioester with CoA . ACAD11 and ACADM belong to the family of fatty acyl-CoA dehydrogenases that catalyze the initial rate-limiting step of the beta-oxidation cycle . CRAT catalyzes the reversible transfer of acyl-CoA from carnitine to free CoA . ECI2 is an auxiliary enzyme in the beta oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids that converts 3-cis or trans-enoyl-CoA to 2-trans-enoyl-CoA . HADHB catalyzes the final step of beta-oxidation, in which 3-ketoacyl CoA is cleaved by the thiol group of another molecule of Coenzyme A . ACOX1 and ACOX2 catalyze the first and rate-limiting step of peroxisomal fatty acid beta oxidation, the desaturation of acyl-CoAs to 2-trans-enoyl-CoAs. ACOX1 catalyzes medium to very long straight-chain fatty acids , while ACOX2 catalyze the CoA-esters of very long-chain fatty acids, branched-chain fatty acids and the C27-bile acid intermediates . The decreased expression of all these proteins involved in the fatty acid beta oxidation process may imply that fatty acid beta oxidation is impaired by PAD. This implication is supported by previous finding in rats that PAD reduced CoA and short-chain acyl-CoA contents , as well as hepatic peroxisomal fatty acid beta oxidation .
PAD downregulated six proteins involved in the TCA cycle, including DLD, ACO1, ACO2, MDH1, MDH2, and PDHB, and upregulated one protein, IDH1. PDHB is a subunit of pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1). DLD (E3) is a common component of pyruvate dehydrogenase complexe and α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complexe, converting dihydrolipoic acid and NAD+ into lipoic acid and NADH . Pyruvate dehydrogenase catalyses the oxidative decarboxylation of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA, thereby linking glycolysis to the TCA cycle and fatty acid synthesis [47, 48]. α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase is a rate-limiting enzyme of the TCA cycle, catalyzing the conversion of α-ketoglutarate to succinyl-CoA and NADH [57, 58]. ACO1 and ACO2 are two isozymes of aconitate hydratase located in cytoplasmic and mitochondrial respectively, which catalyzes the isomerization of citrate to isocitrate via cis-aconitate. MDH1 and MDH2 are two isozymes of malate dehydrogenase located in cytoplasmic and mitochondrial respectively, which catalyzes the reversible interconversion of malate and oxaloacetate . IDH1 is a subunit of isocitrate dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the decarboxylation of isocitrate into alpha-ketoglutarate . Six out of seven proteins (DLD, ACO1, ACO2, MDH1, MDH2, and PDHB) were depressed in the PAD group, which likely indicates a decreased mucosa TCA cycle.
PAD downregulated 5 proteins involved in the oxidative phosphorylation process, including NDUFA5, NDUFA6, ATP5F1, ATP5H, and ATP5PO. NDUFA5 and NDUFA6 are two subunits of complex I, which play a direct role in complex I assembly [61, 62]. ATP5F1, ATP5H, and ATP5PO are three subunits of complex V, which play a direct role in complex V assembly [63–65]. The downregulated expression of proteins involved in the oxidative phosphorylation process, including complex I and complex V, likely indicates that mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation is impaired by PAD.
Together, our duodenum mucosal proteomic analysis revealed glycolysis and gluconeogenesis, fatty acid beta oxidation, TCA cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation processes are probably impaired in response to PAD, which may consequently leads to insufficient ATP production in the small intestine and subsequent growth retardation.
Regulation of actin cytoskeleton
Eleven proteins altered by PAD have actin-binding domains and play a direct role in the organization of structure of the cytoskeleton, including two downregualted proteins (VIL1 and EZR) and nine upregulated proteins (ACTN1, FN1, MSN, MYL1, MYLK, VCL, TPM3, TPM1, and VIM). VIL1 and EZR (also known as villin 2; VIL2) are microvillar proteins in intestinal epithelial cells . VIL1 is an epithelial cell-specific actin-binding protein that regulates cell migration, cell death, cell morphology, and epithelial-to-mesenchy-mal transition [67, 68]. EZR is critical for the de novo lumen formation and expansion during villus morphogenesis, and EZR absence resulted in abnormal villus morphogenesis [69, 70].
Actinin is a component of stress fibers and links the cytoskeleton to adherens-type junctions. As one isoform of actinin, ACTN1 plays a major role in cell migration and adhesion . Besides, ACTN1 can directly binds to VCL, and the two proteins cooperate to organize the cytoskeleton at adhesion junctions . FN1, a glycoprotein component of the extracellular matrix, has a role in cell adhesion and migration . VIM induces changes in cell shape, motility, and adhesion during the epithelial to mesenchymal transition . MYLK induces contraction of the perijunctional actomyosin ring through myosin II regulatory light chain phosphorylation, and thereby increases intestinal epithelial permeability when activated . TPM3 and TPM1 are two isoforms of tropomyosins which play important roles in the regulation of assembly, stability, and motility of the intestinal epithelial cells . Collectively, the over expression of nine proteins (ACTN1, FN1, MSN, MYL1, MYLK, VCL, TPM3, TPM1, and VIM) and downregulation of two proteins (VIL1 and EZR) in response to PAD probably indicates orchestrated regulation of actin cytoskeleton dynamics and the negative impact on intestinal integrity. Remodeling of the cytoskeleton is fundamental in proliferation, apoptosis, cell invasion and metastasis . Therefore, these altered proteins involved in regulation of actin cytoskeleton in response to PAD probably resulted in morphological changes of small intestine, such as atrophy of their intestinal villus. Furthermore, it is reported that ATP depletion uncouples the gate and fence functions of the tight junction and induces actin network dissolution of epithelial cells . The alterations of intestinal morphology and actin cytoskeleton due to PAD in the present study may be attributed to ATP depletion indicated by impaired glycolysis, fatty acid beta oxidation, TCA cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation processes.
PAD downregulated three proteins involved in the oxidative stress, including MAOA, CAT, and MGST1, and upregulated one protein, GCLC. MAOA metabolizes dopamine to dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and H2O2, a potential source of reactive oxygen species . Both CAT and MGST1 take part in the oxidative stress defense as its scavenging of H2O2 [80, 81]. GCLC is a subunit of glutamate cysteine ligase which catalyzes the rate-limiting step in reduced glutathione (GSH) synthesis. And glutamate cysteine ligase is often activated to increase cellular GSH content in response to oxidative stress . Collectively, the reduction of MAOA, CAT, and MGST1 in PAD ducks, as well as the enhanced GCLC, indicates small intestinal oxidative stress was induced. This is supported by the results of increased plasma MDA content and decreased T-SOD activity in the present study and is in line with previous studies in geese  and fish . It has been shown that pantothenic acid can protect cells against oxidative stress by increasing the levels of glutathione and promoting cellular repair mechanisms by potentiating synthesis of membrane phospholipids [22–24]. Furthermore, PAD induced oxidative stress in ducks, which may be associated with intestinal injury and morphological alterations.
A novel and important finding of this study is that four proteins (SLC2A2, VIL1, EZR, and MOGAT2) involved in intestinal absorption were downregulated in duodenum mucosa as a result of PAD. Intestinal SLC2A2 (GLUT2) is known as a means to transfer glucose and fructose from the lumen to the bloodstream and, thereby, to provide sugar to tissue. And intestinal SLC2A2 deletion in mice induced glucose malabsorption visualized by the delay in the distribution of oral sugar in tissues, as well as decreased microvillus length and body weight gain . It is reported pantothenic acid appears to be part of a glucose carrier system , therefore, PAD may direct reduce SLC2A2 and resulted in abnormal glucose absorption and hypoglycemia in ducks. Villin (VIL1 and EZR) is also involved in the absorptive and secretory function of epithelial cells by modulating F-actin polymerization/depolymerization. Specifically, villin-depleted mice showed a reduction in intestinal glucose absorption . Decreased protein expression of SLC2A2, VIL1, and EZR due to PAD probably impair glucose absorption system, which may provide a possible explanation for fasting hypoglycemia that is seen. MOGAT2 plays a central role in absorption of dietary fat in the small intestine by catalyzing the resynthesis of triacylglycerol in enterocytes . MGAT2 deficient specifically in the small intestine showed a delay in fat absorption in mice . Therefore, a reduction of SLC2A2, VIL1, EZR, and MOGAT2 suggests that glucose and fat malabsorption in the small intestine may be induced by PAD, which probably leads to growth depression that is seen. This is in line with the previous findings in fish that PAD decreased the digestive and absorptive capacities indicated by the reduced the activities of both intestinal brush border enzymes and digestive enzymes [14, 21].