Antifreeze protein-induced superheating of ice inside Antarctic notothenioid fishes inhibits melting during summer warming

Paul A. Cziko, Arthur L. DeVries, Clive W. Evans, Chi Hing Christina Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antifreeze proteins (AFPs) of polar marine teleost fishes are widely recognized as an evolutionary innovation of vast adaptive value in that, by adsorbing to and inhibiting the growth of internalized environmental ice crystals, they prevent death by inoculative freezing. Paradoxically, systemic accumulation of AFP-stabilized ice could also be lethal. Whether or how fishes eliminate internal ice is unknown. To investigate if ice inside high-latitude Antarctic notothenioid fishes could melt seasonally, we measured its melting point and obtained a decadal temperature record from a shallow benthic fish habitat in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. We found that AFP-stabilized ice resists melting at temperatures above the expected equilibrium freezing/melting point (eqFMP), both in vitro and in vivo. Superheated ice was directly observed in notothenioid serum samples and in solutions of purified AFPs, and ice was found to persist inside live fishes at temperatures more than 1 °C above their eqFMP for at least 24 h, and at a lower temperature for at least several days. Field experiments confirmed that superheated ice occurs naturally inside wild fishes. Over the long-Term record (1999-2012), seawater temperature surpassed the fish eqFMP in most summers, but never exceeded the highest temperature at which ice persisted inside experimental fishes. Thus, because of the effects of AFP-induced melting inhibition, summer warming may not reliably eliminate internal ice. Our results expose a potentially antagonistic pleiotropic effect of AFPs: beneficial freezing avoidance is accompanied by melting inhibition that may contribute to lifelong accumulation of detrimental internal ice crystals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14583-14588
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 7 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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