The capacity of yolk sac (YS) utilization by the chick embryo may be affected by structural changes in the YS membrane (YSM) and by the mechanisms within its cells for digestion, absorption, and transfer of nutrients. Two experiments were conducted to examine structural and digestive changes in the YS of the broiler chick embryo; weights of embryo, YS, and YSM, as well as the total area of the YSM and the absorptive area of the YSM, were measured between embryonic day (E) 5 and E21. In addition, fat content, lipase activity, and bile acid concentration in the YSM and YS contents (YSC) were measured between E11 and E21. Results showed that YSM weight increased from 0.19 g on E5 to 6.46 g on E15, and decreased by 3.74 g between E17 and E21. The absorptive YSM area increased from 536 mm2 on E5 (51% of total YSM area) to 6,370 mm2 (86% of total area) on E17, and decreased to 4,439 mm 2 on E21 (85% of total area). The smaller YSM area between E17 and E21 did not decrease the rate of YS fat utilization, which could suggest that YSM mechanisms for fat absorption, digestion, and secretion increased during that period. Total YSM lipase activity relative to fat content (units per g of YSM fat) increased from approximately 1,000 units on E15 to 1,500 units on E21. The detection of lipase in the YSM lends support to the hypothesis that YS lipids are hydrolyzed in the lipolysosomes of the YSM. The current study also confirmed for the first time that bile acids are present in the YS, with levels that ranged from 0.61 to 1.06 μmol/g in the YSM, and may suggest that bile is synthesized in the YSM of the chick embryo. Results of the current study contribute to our understanding of the developmental changes that affect YS functionality and could give insight into the coordination between the embryo's demands and YSM morphological, absorptive, digestive, and secretive changes.
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