Evolution in chronic cold: Varied loss of cellular response to heat in Antarctic notothenioid fish

Kevin T. Bilyk, Luis Vargas-Chacoff, C. H.Christina Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Confined within the freezing Southern Ocean, the Antarctic notothenioids have evolved to become both cold adapted and cold specialized. A marked signature of cold specialization is an apparent loss of the cellular heat shock response (HSR). As the HSR has been examined in very few notothenioid species to-date, it remains unknown whether HSR loss pervades the Antarctic radiation, or whether the broader cellular responses to heat stress has sustained similar loss. Understanding the evolutionary status of these responses in this stenothermal taxon is crucial for evaluating its adaptive potential to ocean warming under climate change. Results: In this study, we used an acute heat stress protocol followed by RNA-Seq analyses to study the evolution of cellular-wide transcriptional responses to heat stress across three select notothenioid lineages - the basal temperate and nearest non-Antarctic sister species Eleginops maclovinus serving as ancestral proxy, the cryopelagic Pagothenia borchgrevinki and the icefish Chionodraco rastrospinosus representing cold-adapted red-blooded and hemoglobinless Antarctic notothenioids respectively. E. maclovinus displayed robust cellular stress responses including the ER Unfolded Protein Response and the cytosolic HSR, cementing the HSR as a plesiomorphy that preceded Antarctic notothenioid radiation. While the transcriptional response to heat stress was minimal in P. borchgrevinki, C. rastrospinosus exhibited robust responses in the broader cellular networks especially in inflammatory responses despite lacking the classic HSR and UPR. Conclusion: The disparate patterns observed in these two archetypal Antarctic species indicate the evolutionary status in cellular ability to mitigate acute heat stress varies even among Antarctic lineages, which may affect their adaptive potential in coping with a warming world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number143
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 19 2018


  • Antarctic fish
  • Cellular stress response
  • Cold-specialization
  • Gene expression
  • Notothenioid
  • RNA Seq
  • Stenothermal
  • Thermal stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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