Chou, M.Y., Hsiao, C.D., Chen, S.C., Chen, I.W., Liu, S.T., and Hwang, P.P. (2008) Effects of hypothermia on gene expression in zebrafish gills: upregulation in differentiation and function of ionocytes as compensatory responses. The Journal of experimental biology. 211(Pt 19):3077-3084.
Ectothermic vertebrates are different from mammals that are sensitive to hypothermia and have to maintain core temperature for survival. Why and how ectothermic animals survive, grow and reproduce in low temperature have been for a long time a scientifically challenging and important inquiry to biologists. We used a microarray to profile the gill transcriptome in zebrafish (Danio rerio) after exposure to low temperature. Adult zebrafish were acclimated to a low temperature of 12 degrees C for 1 day and up to 30 days, and the gill transcriptome was compared with that of control fish in 28 degrees C by oligonucleotide microarray hybridization. Results showed 11 and 22 transcripts were found to be upregulated, whereas 56 and 70 transcripts were downregulated by low-temperature treatment for 1 day and 30 days, respectively. The gill transcriptome profiles revealed that ionoregulation-related genes were highly upregulated in cold-acclimated zebrafish. This paved the way to investigate the role of ionoregulatory genes in zebrafish gills during cold acclimation. Cold acclimation caused upregulation of genes that are essential for ionocyte specification, differentiation, ionoregulation, acid-base balance and the number of cells expressing these genes increased. For instance, epithelial Ca(2+) channel (EcaC; an ionoregulatory protein) mRNA increased in parallel with the level of Ca(2+) influx, revealing a functional compensation after long-term acclimation to cold. Phosphohistone H3 and TUNEL staining showed that the cell turnover rate was retarded in cold-acclimated gills. Altogether, these results suggest that gills may sustain their functions by producing mature ionocytes from pre-existing undifferentiated progenitors in low-temperature environments.