Dietary aluminium and renal failure in the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
J.I. Haynes, M.J. Askew* and C. Leigh
Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
*Current Address: Department of Environmental Biology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
The study investigated the link between the potentially nephrotoxic levels of aluminium ingested in the natural diet of eucalypt leaves by koalas in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, and the high incidence of renal failure in koalas within this habitat. Routine histology of kidney specimens revealed no pathologies at the light microscopic level and contrasted sharply with the clinical signs of renal failure. However staining with solochrome azurine and Perl’s Prussian blue showed aluminium was present in some proximal convoluted tubules in all specimens. Aluminium was also found in bone samples. The presence of aluminium in bone and kidney tissues was confirmed using electron dispersive x-ray analysis with transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Ultrastructural changes, including a decrease in lysosomal numbers, were seen in proximal convoluted tubules and these changes were shown to coincide with the presence of aluminium. No aluminium was found in koalas that died from causes other than renal failure. It was concluded that renal failure in the koalas of the Adelaide Hills is characterised by the presence of aluminium in the kidneys and bone and it is probably related to the high levels of aluminium in their restricted diet of eucalypt leaves. However, it is not known if the presence of aluminium is the cause or effect of the renal failure. The study is the first account where aluminium ingested as part of the natural diet of mammals has been shown to accumulate in the animal and be implicated with nephrotoxicity.