Nitrogenous compounds characterized in the deterrent skin extract of migratory adult sea lamprey from the Great Lakes region.
The sea lamprey (Petromzons marinus) is a devastating invasive species that represents a significant impediment to restoration of the Laurentian Great Lakes. There is substantial interest in developing environmentally benign control strategies for sea lamprey, and many other aquatic invasive species, that employ the manipulation of semiochemical information (pheromones and chemical cues) to guide the movements of invaders into control opportunities (e.g. traps, locations for safe pesticide application, etc.). A necessary precursor to the use of semiochemicals in conservation activities is the identification of the chemical constituents that compose the odors. Here, we characterize the major nitrogenous substances from the water-soluble fraction of a skin extract that contains the sea lamprey alarm cue, a powerful repellent that has proven effective in guiding the movements of migrating sea lamprey in rivers. Nitrogenous compounds are suspected components of fish alarm cues as the olfactory sensory neurons that mediate alarm responses transduce amino acids and related compounds. A laboratory assay confirmed the behavioral activity contained in the alarm cue resides in the water-soluble fraction of the skin extract. This water-soluble fraction consisted primarily of creatine (70%), heterocyclic nitrogenous compounds (4.3%) and free amino acids (18.4%), respectively. Among the free amino acids characterized in our study, essential amino acids constituted 13% of the water-soluble fraction. Free amino acids isolated from the water-soluble fraction composed of arginine, phenylalanine, threonine, and asparagine 3.9, 2.7, 2.6 and 2.4% of the water-soluble fraction, respectively. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding the nature and use of the sea lamprey alarm cue in conservation activities.