Coral Reefs

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Investigating the heat shock protein response involved in coral bleaching across scleractinian species in the central Red Sea

  • Davide SevesoEmail author
  • Roberto Arrigoni
  • Simone Montano
  • Davide Maggioni
  • Ivan Orlandi
  • Michael L. Berumen
  • Paolo Galli
  • Marina Vai


Coral bleaching represents the most serious threat to contemporary coral reefs. In response, focus is being laid on understanding the cellular processes involved in the response of corals to the environmental stresses and the molecular mechanisms that determine the bleaching patterns. In the present study, a component of the cellular stress response such as the expression of the heat shock proteins (Hsps) was analyzed following the coral bleaching event which occurred in the central Red Sea (Saudi Arabia) in 2015. During this event, corals of different species, growth forms and sites showed variable bleaching susceptibility. In particular, we investigated the expression of Hsp70, Hsp60 and Hsp32 in both healthy and bleached colonies belonging to four different coral species (Goniopora lobata, Porites lobata, Seriatopora hystrix and Stylophora pistillata), in order to explore the intra- and inter-specific modulation of these biomarkers as well as the existence of spatial patterns of Hsp expression. In healthy colonies, the level of all the biomarkers was significantly different among the different species, although within each species it remained similar regardless of the distance from the shore. All the coral species showed a significant modulation of the Hsp expression in response to bleaching, whose typology and amplitude were species-specific. In all the species, Hsp70 and Hsp60 showed a coordinated dual expression, which, in response to bleaching resulted in an up-regulation in G. lobata and P. lobata and in a down-regulation in S. hystrix and S. pistillata. Hsp32 was up-regulated in all four species following bleaching, indicative of elevated oxidative stress. Overall, the protein expression profiles of each species contribute to assess the role of Hsps in regulating the susceptibility to thermal stresses of the various coral taxa of the Red Sea.


Heat shock proteins Heme oxygenase-1 Red Sea Coral bleaching Susceptibility 



The authors wish to thank Tullia Terraneo, Malek Amr Gusti and all the staff of the KAUST Reef Ecology Lab for logistic support and technical assistance during field activities in Saudi Arabia. The authors are also grateful to Francesca Pedretti and Ambra Nucci for laboratory assistance. This research was undertaken in accordance with the policies and procedures of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Permission to undertake the research has been obtained from the applicable governmental agencies in the investigated areas. The views expressed are purely those of the writers and may not in any circumstance be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1582 kb)


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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Davide Seveso
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Roberto Arrigoni
    • 3
    • 4
  • Simone Montano
    • 1
    • 2
  • Davide Maggioni
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ivan Orlandi
    • 5
  • Michael L. Berumen
    • 4
  • Paolo Galli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marina Vai
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DISAT)University of Milan – BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.MaRHE Center (Marine Research and High Education Center)Magoodhoo IslandRepublic of Maldives
  3. 3.European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)IspraItaly
  4. 4.Red Sea Research Center, Division of Biological and Environmental Sciences and EngineeringKing Abdullah University of Science and TechnologyThuwalSaudi Arabia
  5. 5.Department of Biotechnologies and Biosciences (BTBS)University of Milan – BicoccaMilanItaly

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