Transcriptome analysis of the response to chronic constant hypoxia in zebrafish hearts
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Insufficient blood supply during acute infarction and chronic ischemia leads to tissue hypoxia which can significantly alter gene expression patterns in the heart. In contrast to most mammals, some teleost fishes are able to adapt to extremely low oxygen levels. We describe here that chronic constant hypoxia (CCH) leads to a smaller ventricular outflow tract, reduced lacunae within the central ventricular cavity and around the trabeculae and an increase in the number of cardiac myocyte nuclei per area in the hearts of two teleost species, zebrafish (Danio rerio) and cichlids (Haplochromis piceatus). In order to identify the molecular basis for the adaptations to CCH, we profiled the gene expression changes in the hearts of adult zebrafish. We have analyzed over 15,000 different transcripts and found 376 differentially regulated genes, of which 260 genes showed increased and 116 genes decreased expression levels. Two notch receptors (notch-2 and notch-3) as well as regulatory genes linked to cell proliferation were transcriptionally upregulated in hypoxic hearts. We observed a simultaneous increase in expression of IGF-2 and IGFbp1 and upregulation of several genes important for the protection against reactive oxygen species (ROS). We have identified here many novel genes involved in the response to CCH in the heart, which may have potential clinical implications in the future.
KeywordsHypoxia Zebrafish Heart Hyperplasia Gene expression
Low oxygen levels (hypoxia) play important roles in clinical conditions such as stroke and heart failure. Insufficient blood supply leads to tissue hypoxia in the heart during acute infarction and chronic ischemia (Semenza 2001).
Effective protection of the heart against ischemia/reperfusion injury is one of the most important goals of experimental and clinical research in cardiology. Besides ischemic preconditioning as a powerful temporal protective phenomenon, adaptation to chronic hypoxia also increases cardiac tolerance to all major deleterious consequences of acute oxygen deprivation such as myocardial infarction, contractile dysfunction and ventricular arrhythmias (Kolar and Ostadal 2003). Although many factors have been proposed to play potential roles, the detailed mechanism of this long-term protection remains poorly understood. Some of the molecular mechanisms of cardiac protection by adaptation to chronic hypoxia and chronic high-altitude hypoxia have recently been reviewed (Kolar and Ostadal 2003; Ostadal and Kolar 2007). KATP channels, PKCδ as well as the different MAPK pathways were shown to be involved in the mechanism of increased tolerance of chronically hypoxic hearts and further the controversial role of ROS in hypoxia tolerance is discussed (Kolar and Ostadal 2003). Furthermore, a recent study has profiled the gene expression changes induced by chronic constant hypoxia (CCH) and chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH) in newborn mice (Fan et al. 2005).
In contrast to most mammals (with the exception of some marine mammals), some teleosts, have developed the ability to withstand extreme chronic hypoxia (Stecyk et al. 2004). It is well assumed that these vertebrate species possess unique adaptations in order to survive short and long term oxygen deprivation. However, the molecular basis of these adaptations in fish has so far not been extensively investigated.
Several studies have profiled gene expression changes in teleosts exposed to hypoxia. Gracey et al. showed in adults of the euryoxic gobiid fish Gillichthys mirabilis (the long-jawed mudsucker), that 5 days of hypoxia induced a complex transcriptional response, including a shut down of energy requiring pathways like protein synthesis and locomotion, and an induction of genes needed for anaerobic ATP production in different tissues (Gracey et al. 2001). Recently, we described phenotypic and behavioral adaptations to long-term hypoxia and described the gene expression changes induced by chronic constant hypoxia in the gills of adult zebrafish (van der Meer et al. 2005).
Ton et al. identified global gene expression changes in zebrafish embryos. Zebrafish embryos at 48 h post fertilization were exposed to water with 5% oxygen content for 24 h. The authors identified 138 genes responsive to short-term hypoxia and could also show that transcriptional changes indicated metabolic depression, a switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism and energy conservation (Ton et al. 2003).
In this study, we have identified CCH-induced gene expression changes in the zebrafish heart by looking at over half of the zebrafish genome. We have compared several of these novel changes described in other species and tissues. We have here identified the heart-specific molecular adaptations to CCH. Future functional experiments are warranted to determine whether some of the findings can be used to better adapt mammalian hearts to CCH.
Material and methods
Adult wild-type zebrafish (Danio rerio) around 3 month of age, were obtained from a local pet store. Cichlids (Haplochromis piceatus) have been collected in the Mwanza Gulf of Lake Victoria in 1984 and were bred in our laboratory for about 20 generations. All animals were handled in compliance with animal care regulations. Our animal protocols were approved by the review board of Leiden University in accordance with the requirements of the Dutch government. Zebrafish were kept at 25°C in aquaria with day/night light cycles (12 h dark vs. 12 h light). Cichlids were kept at 25°C with the same day/night light cycles.
For gradual hypoxia treatment, oxygen levels were gradually decreased in 4 days from 100% air saturated water to 40% (day 1), 30% (day 2), 20% (day 3) and the final 10% air saturation (day 4). After day 4, the fish were kept for an additional 21 days at 10% air saturation. (at 100% air saturation and 28°C the O2 concentration is 8 mg/l and pO2 is 15 Torr). In parallel, a control group was kept at 100% air saturated water. Both groups were kept in identical aquaria of 100 l. The oxygen level on the hypoxia group was kept constant by a controller (Applikon Biotechnology, The Netherlands) connected to an O2-electrode and solenoid valve in line with an air diffuser. The oxygen level in the tank was kept constant by adding oxygen via the diffuser and thereby compensating the oxygen consumption of the fish. In case of immediate hypoxia exposure, tanks were pre-equilibrated to the respective pO2 concentration and fish were then directly set in the equilibrated aquaria.
Perfusion of cichlid hearts
In order to minimize blood clotting, a perfusion protocol was developed in which the whole blood volume of clinically dead animals was initially replaced with isotonic buffer and with a fixative solution secondarily.
The fish were killed with an overdose of anesthetic (MS-222; Tricaine Methanesulfonate from Argent Chemical Laboratories, USA). Hearts were dissected from the fish immediately after the anesthetic worked. For RNA preparation the hearts were immediately shock-freezed in liquid nitrogen. For histology and microscopy, the hearts were left intact and fixed immediately in Karnovsky fixative (4% paraformaldehyde (PFA) and 2.5% glutaraldehyde in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2) for 4 h at 4°C. After three washes in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2, they were transferred to 70% ethanol.
Histology of adult fish hearts, statistical analysis and scanning electron microscopy
Hearts from zebrafish and cichlids raised either under normoxic or hypoxic conditions, were dissected from the fish and fixed for 24 h in 4% PFA in PBS. After fixation, hearts were washed with 1 × PBS, cut in halfs (sagittal through the midline) and then dehydrated through ethanol series starting at 70% ethanol, followed by 80, 90, 96 and 100% ethanol, each step was done once for 1 h except the last one which was done twice. After dehydration the hearts were embedded in increasing gradients of Historesin (Technovit 7100, Heraus Kulzer, Germany) (25, 50, 75 and 100% Historesin in ethanol, for 2 h at room temperature; 100% Historesin, 24 h at 4°C). Afterwards the plastic with the hearts was polymerized at 40°C (overnight). A 5 μm sagittal sections were made using the Ultramicrotome (Reichter-Jung) and a glass knife. Approximately 500 sections on each side of the midline were visually analyzed per heart (1,000 sections in total per heart). Sections were left to dry and later stained with hematoxylin–eosin staining. Pictures were taken with Axioplan 2 imaging, (Carl Zeiss, Jena). Azan staining of histological sections were done as follows. Paraffin sections of the hearts were prepared as described before (van der Meer et al. 2006). Sections were incubated with Azokarmine solution, for 30 min at 60°C. Afterwards they were washed in water and differentiated in 0.2% Anilin alcohol. They were then rinsed in 1% acetic acid in 95% alcohol, followed by 45 min incubation period, in 5% phosphotungstic acid. After that, sections were rinsed in distilled water and incubated for 45 min with aniline blue. Finally, they were rinsed with distilled water, differentiated and dehydrated in 95% alcohol followed by absolute, cleared in xylene and mounted in Entallan. The protocols used here for SEM had been described before (van der Meer et al. 2005). The statistical analysis of cardiac myocyte nuclei per section was done using Statistica by performing an independent t test. A P value of less than 0.05 was considered significant.
Immunohistochemistry and statistical analysis
Zebrafish, raised either under normoxic or hypoxic conditions, were killed with an overdose of anesthetic MS-222 and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Subsequently, transversal cross-sections (10 μm thick) of the body, were cut using a cryostat at −20°C and mounted on glass slides coated with Vectabond (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame, USA). Sections were fixed in 4% formaldehyde in Tris-buffered saline (TBS; 50 mM Tris and 150 mM NaCl, pH 7.5) for 10 min and subsequently washed in TBS with 0.05% Tween-20 (TBST) (Sigma-Aldrich, Zwijndrecht, The Netherlands). Subsequently, sections were incubated for 10 min with 10% normal swine serum (Vector laboratories) in TBST after which sections were incubated for 24 h at 4°C with anti-phospho Akt polyclonal antibody (Santa-Cruz Biotechnology, USA) diluted 1:50 in TBST. After incubation with primary antibody, the slides were washed in TBST and subsequently placed in 0.25% (v/v) acetic anhydride in 0.1 M triethanolamine buffer (pH 8) for 10 min followed by rinsing in TBST. After this, sections were incubated for 60 min at 20°C with secondary anti-rabbit immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody covalently coupled to alkaline phosphatase (Vector Laboaratories) diluted 1:100 and washed in TBST. After this, sections were incubated for 5 min with alkaline phosphatase (AP) buffer (0.1 M NaCl, 0.1 M Tris, 50 mM MgCl2 and 0.1% Tween-20, pH 9.5) followed by incubation with BM Purple AP substrate (Roche Applied Sciences, Almere, The Netherlands) for 30, 45 or 60 min which was followed by rinsing in TBST. All sections were mounted in glycerine-gelatin and stored at 4°C in the dark until staining intensity was measured. The absorbance values of the BM Purple in the sections were determined using a Leica DMRB microscope (Wetzlar, Germany) fitted with calibrated gray filters using different interference filters. Absorbances for BM Purple were determined at 550 nm. Images were recorded with a ×20 objective and a Sony XC-77CE camera (Towada, Japan) connected to a LG-3 frame grabber (Scion; Frederick, MD) in an Apple Power Macintosh computer. Recorded images were analysed with the public domain program NIH-Image V1.61 (US National Institutes of Health, available at http://rsb.info.nih.gov/nih-image/). Gray values were converted to absorbance values per pixel using the gray filters and a third-degree polynomial fit in the calibrate option of NIH-image programme. Morphometry was calibrated using a slide micrometer and the set scale option in NIH-image, taking the pixel-aspect ration into account. An independent t test was used to test for differences in phospho-Akt levels in cardiac myocytes of normoxic and hypoxic fish. A P value of less than 0.05 was considered significant. Values are means ± S.E.M.
RNA preparation and biological sampling
After dissection hearts were homogenized in a Dounce homogenizer using 1 ml Trizol solution (GibcoBrl, Life technologies). The whole heart was used and for each biological sample hearts were pooled from five different animals. After Trizol extraction, total RNA was further purified using RNAeasy columns (Qiagen). RNA samples were analyzed for quality control by Lab-on-a-chip analysis (Agilent) and on agarose gels. For the array experiment five arrays were done for normoxic and 5 arrays for the hypoxic condition. Biological samples (BS) came from two independent experiments and one technical replicate (TR) was included (2BS + 2BS + TR for normoxia and 2BS + 2BS + TR for hypoxia). As mentioned above for each BS, hearts from five different animals were pooled.
Statistical analysis of histological sections (5 μm) from zebrafish (Danio rerio) and cichlid (Haplochromis piceatus) hearts
Number of cardiomyocyte nuclei per section
Zebrafish (nuclei per 900 μm2)
Cichlid (nuclei per 10,000 μm2)
9.9 × 10−17
7.6 × 10−12
Gene ontology analysis
The Gene ontology analysis was performed using eGOn and the database of the Norwegian Microarray Consortium (http://www.genetools.microarray.ntnu.no/egon/) and the most recent updated Unigene numbers for zebrafish (May 2007). 13414 Unigene numbers were annotated to the Affymetrix gene chip used. eGOn Enrichment analysis was used for the entire Affymetrix set versus the identified 376 gene set based on the new Unigene numbers. A master target test was performed (using Fishers exact test) and the cut off for positives was set to P < 0.05. The available three categories, molecular function, biological process and cellular component were all tested and are shown in this dataset (Supplemental Data 1). The fold enrichment was based on the percentage found within the differentially expressed genes divided by the percentage on the total chip. A list of all Unigene numbers found in the different categories is given in Supplemental Data 2.
Real-time quantitative RT-PCR
For verification of gene expression data, we used quantitative real-time RT-PCR. Biological RNA samples were obtained from a third independent experiment and as mentioned above for the microarrays, for each BS hearts from five different animals were pooled. The Roche Master SYBR Green kit was used for the RT-PCR reactions. The annealing and synthesis temperature was 55°C alternating with 96°C for 45 cycles. Dissociation protocols were used to measure melting curves and control for unspecific signals from the primers. A measure of 100 ng of total RNA was used per reaction. A standard curve for β-actin using 1, 5, 10, 100 and 500 ng of total RNA was used for normalization. Samples were measured in the Roche LightCycler. The primer3 software (http://frodo.wi.mit.edu/cgi-bin/primer3/primer3_www.cgi) was used to design primers for short amplicons between 50 and 100 bases. The primers used are shown in Supplemental Table 2.
Phenotypic changes in the heart of adult teleosts under chronic constant hypoxia (CCH)
Gene expression changes in the heart of adult zebrafish under chronic constant hypoxia (CCH)
In this study, we used microarrays for the transcriptional profiling of up and downregulated genes in response to hypoxia in the zebrafish heart. We identified 376 genes that were differentially expressed under hypoxic conditions, out of which 116 genes showed a decrease in gene expression (30.9%) in comparison to 260 genes which showed increased expression levels (69.1%).
All 376 differentially expressed genes, including the ones with oligo sequences which could not be annotated so far (referred therein either as transcribed locus or zebrafish clone) are shown in the complete file (Supplemental Table 1). Functional groups are color coded and if possible, gene functions are briefly summarized and OMIM links given.
Functional groups of differentially expressed genes in the heart
Functional groups of differentially expressed genes
T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia 1; TAL1
Fibrinogen alpha/alpha-E chain
Fibrinogen, gamma polypeptide
BCL2adenovirus E1b 19 interacting protein3
Apoptosis inhibitor 5
BAX inhibitor 1
Tumor-associated calcium signal transducer
Tumor-associated calcium signal transducer glycoprotein
T-cell acute lymphocyte leukemia 1 (tal 1)
Bone morphogenetic protein 3b; (bmp 3)
SOX2 SRY-box 2
NOTCH3 Notch homolog 3 (Drosophila)
Chemokine receptor 4a
Eparin cofactor II
4hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase HPD
Gata binding protein 3 (GATA3)
Prion protein (prp) gene
Insulin like growth factor 2 (IGF-2)
Mad homolog 2
Tetraspan membrane protein IL-TMP
Insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1
Insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1
Lectin galactoside-binding soluble 1; (galectin10-like 3)
Complement component C9
Alpha-2 macro-globulin; A2MG
Small inducible cytokine A (scyba)
Kruppel-like factor 4
Complement component 8, gamma polypeptide
C3 complement component 3
Complement component b fb
c1rs-A and clrs-B
Complement component C9
Complement component C9
cfI-B complement control protein factor I-B
Complement component C9
Complement component factor B
Lipocalin-type prostaglandin D synthase-like protein
Sulfide dehydrogenase like
Hypoxanthine _hosphor-ribosyltransferase 1
Alcohol dehydrogenase 8 b
Fatty acid desaturase 2
ELOVL family member 6,
Complement component C9
Protease inhibitor 1
Inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor heavy chain H3
Serine protease inhibitor alpha 1
ITIH3 pre-alpha (globulin) inhibitor, H3 polypeptide
26–29 kD-Proteinase protein
Biliverdin I Beta Reductase
Glutathione S-transferase theta 1
Uncoupling protein 4
CAM kinase 1
Rho guanine nucleotide exchange factor 10
Rho guanine nucleotide exchange factor 5
Phospholipase C delta
RRAGC Rag C (Ras-related GTP binding C)
Protein phosphatase 1,
RNA 3′-terminal phosphate cyclase-like protein (HSPC338)
Methionyl aminopeptidase 2
Eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4A,
40 S ribosomal protein S6
Ribosomal protein L12
Ribosomal protein L12
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K
Clathrin coat assembly protein AP19
APOB apolipoprotein B (including Ag(x) antigen)
Solute carrier family 22
Embryonic globin beta e2
Uroporphyrinogen III synthase
Na+K+ transporting, alpha 1a.2 polypeptide
Fast muscle troponin I
Similar to CYR6 HUMAN CYR61 protein precursor, Insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 10
ras-like GTP-binding protein RAB27A
Ataxin 2-binding protein
Sprouty homolog 4
Suppressors of cytokine signaling 3
B-cell translocation gene 2
Dual specificity phosphatase 5
Epidermal growth factor receptor kinase substrate EPS8
Hormone-regulated proliferation-associated 20 kDa protein
TGF-beta-inducible early growth response protein 2
ATPase, Ca++ transporting, cardiac muscle (ATP2A1)
Fast skeletal myosin light chain 1a
Creatine kinase CKM3
Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase
Carnitine O-palmitoyltransferase II
Short-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase
FabG beta-ketoacyl -reductase
Elongation of very long chain fatty acids (Cig30)
Glucose-6-phosphatase, transport protein 1
Dodecenoyl-coenzyme A delta isomerase
Creatine kinase, mitochondrial 1
Myosin binding protein C
Myosin, light polypeptide 3
Myosin light polypeptide 2; mylz2
Carbonic anhydrase II
Serum deprivation response protein (SDPR)
Mitochondrial elongation factor G1
Mitochondrial ribosomal protein L48
Mitochondrial 28 S ribosomal protein S12
ADT2, ADP,ATP carrier protein
Calcium-binding mitochondrial carrier protein Aralar2 (Citrin)
Solute carrier family 25
GTP-binding protein rab15
ATPase (Ca++ transporting plasma membrane 2)
Proteinbiosynthesis (Translation): In the group linked to proteinbiosynthesis, only three genes showed decreased expression under hypoxic conditions. All three were found to be part of the mitochondrial translational machinery. In contrast, 9 non mitochondrial genes linked to proteinbiosynthesis showed all increased expression (Table 2).
Metabolism: The group with metabolic genes contains 11 repressed and 28 genes with enhanced expression (Table 2). The repression majorly involves metabolic genes linked to β-oxidation and lipid metabolism. Among the metabolic genes with enhanced expression, are pyruvate kinase and aldolase which both are key enzymes for glycolysis indicating a shift from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism induced by hypoxia.
Protection against reactive oxygen species (ROS): The group of genes important for protection against ROS contains 6 genes which are all enhanced under hypoxia.
Apoptosis: We found four genes linked to programmed cell death to be enhanced by hypoxia. Two of these, the death receptor 5 (DR5) and the BNIP3 homologue, are considered to be pro-apoptotic, whereas apoptosis inhibitor 5 and Bax inhibitor have been shown to have anti-apoptotic properties (Tewari et al. 1997; Xu and Reed 1998).
Growth regulation: In the group of genes linked to growth regulation, we found 9 genes to be repressed and 8 genes with enhanced expression. Within the group of 8 repressed genes, we found 5 antiproliferative genes: spry4 and dual specificity phosphatase 5 both inhibit mitogen-activated kinases (MAPK), SOCS3 binds and inhibits Janus kinases (JAK) and thereby prevents STAT3 activation. BTG2 which is important in the G1/S transition and TIEG2 is a transcriptional repressor with antiproliferative functions. Although some genes involved in cell proliferation, like the transcription factor c-fos were repressed by hypoxia (see also “Discussion”), the regulation of the vast majority (13 of 17) of identified genes in this group suggests stimulation of proliferation (Table 2).
Inflammation: 14 genes involved in the inflammatory response were identified to be differentially regulated and all showed increased expression upon hypoxia treatment.
Development: The genes in this group were all found to be upregulated by hypoxia among them the gene for notch-2 and notch-3. Notch receptors are transmembrane receptors with essential roles in development including heart development.
Transport (cellular and vascular): A heterologous group containing the gene for embryonic hemoglobin beta e2, important for oxygen transport and hemopexin which is important for heme and iron transport and was found to be upregulated.
Angiogenesis: It is well known that hypoxia via the hypoxia inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) pathway leads to angiogenesis. In the zebrafish heart under CCH, we observed increased expression of HIF1α as well as fibrinogen-α and -γ. Fibrinogen-α has been shown to stimulate HIF1α and VEGF expression and thereby induces angiogenesis (Shiose et al. 2004).
Expression changes of known hypoxia responsive genes
Examples for regulation of known hypoxia responsive genes are HIF1α, insulin growth factor-2 (IGF-2), insulin growth factor binding protein 1 (IGFbp1) and caveolin 3. The transcription factor Hif1α is pivotal in the cellular response to hypoxic stress (Semenza 1999). We further observed increased expression of the egl nine homolog, a gene which was shown to be induced by hypoxia through the Hif1α pathway (Pescador et al. 2005). IGF-2 gene- and protein expression had been shown to be upregulated by hypoxia (Beilharz et al. 1995). It was shown that IGFbp1 also is a hypoxia-inducible gene in zebrafish embryos and it mediates hypoxia-induced embryonic growth-inhibition and developmental-retardation (Kajimura et al. 2005a). Both IGF-2 and IGFbp1 were found upregulated in our study. We observed decreased expression of caveolin 3 in the hearts of zebrafish exposed to CCH, earlier findings showed that chronic myocardial hypoxia led to decreased caveolin-3 protein expression in rabbit hearts (Shi et al. 2000). These findings indicate that the hypoxic conditions used lead to hypoxic stress in the fish heart.
Evaluation of microarray results by quantitative real-time RT-PCR
Assessment of microarray results for the IGF/PI3K/Akt pathway by comparing phospho-Akt levels in cardiac myocytes of normoxic versus hypoxic zebrafish hearts
In the aquatic environment, oxygen concentrations can often vary, and being able to adapt to changes in oxygen levels can be advantageous for the survival of aquatic animals. This might be in part the reason why some teleosts have developed the ability to withstand extreme hypoxic conditions.
In this study, we have focused on the long-term response to hypoxia in the fish heart. The hypothesis is that the zebrafish heart, in contrast to most mammalian hearts, which are characterized by relative intolerance to injury or the lack of oxygen, are able to adapt to extreme hypoxic conditions.
We showed that chronic hypoxia of zebrafish caused a smaller ventricular outflow tract, reduced lacunae and increased cardiac myocyte densities in the heart. These findings suggest that hypoxia induced an increase of the cardiac myocyte volume or at least did not result in a loss of cardiac myocytes. This is in contrast to mammals where tissue hypoxia in chronic heart failure leads to apoptosis and considerable losses of cardiac myocytes (see for review, Sabbah et al. 2000a). In mammals, compensation for this loss of cardiac myocytes occurs mainly by hypertrophy of the remaining cardiac myocytes (Ostadal and Kolar 2007), although regeneration of myocardium by proliferation of cardiac myocytes may occur also but to a limited extend (Beltrami et al. 2001). Our assay for phosho-Akt did not show any enhancement of Akt activity in response to the CCH, suggesting a lack of hypertrophic signaling via the phosphotadilinositol 3 kinase pathway. However, the density of cardiac myocyte nuclei increased by 50% during CCH, which indicates substantial proliferation of cardiac myocytes and/or nuclear hyperplasia. Recently, it has been shown that the zebrafish heart has the ability to regenerate from mechanical cardiac injury by proliferation of cardiac myocytes (Poss et al. 2002). If the zebrafish heart responds to chronic hypoxia in a similar way as to mechanical dissection, this will be beneficial in preventing apoptosis of cardiac myocytes as the diffusion distance for oxygen are not increased as during hypertrophy, which will help to prevent the development of anoxic cores in the cardiac myocytes (Des Tombe et al. 2002; van der Laarse et al. 2005). In the case that the increase in cardiac myocyte nuclear density during chronic hypoxia was due to nuclear hyperplasia and nuclear ploidy, the observed smaller ventricular outflow tract and reduced lacunae may have been the result of hypertrophy of the existing cardiac myocytes. The histological assay in this study does not clearly distinguish between hyperplasia and hypertrophy of cardiac myocytes. Future investigation of the mechanisms underlying the general morphological adaptations of teleost fish heart in response to CCH requires a nuclear stain in combination with a clear membrane stain, which allows determination of cell sizes in addition to counts of cardiac myocyte nuclei.
We were interested in the underlying gene expression changes of these adaptations. We found gene regulations in a transcriptional network of the serum response element (SRE), which are opposed to the ones described in mammals. In the zebrafish heart hypoxia repressed c-fos and phox1 expression. Both genes are important in the same transcriptional network, phox1 can transduce serum-responsive transcriptional activity to the c-fos (SRE) by interacting with serum response factor (SRF) (Simon et al. 1997). In mammals many studies showed increased expression of c-fos by hypoxia, e.g. in rats hypoxia induces c-fos expression in the LV and RV (Deindl et al. 2003) and the same held true in tissue culture cells (Webster et al. 1993). Interestingly, repression of c-fos by hypoxia has also been shown for the short-term response to anoxia in anoxia tolerant turtles (Greenway and Storey 2000). Is it possible that repression of c-fos and phox-1 are important adaptations in hypoxia tolerant animals?
Several novel gene expression changes induced by CCH have been identified in this study (Table 2 and Supplemental Table 1). An example is the two Notch receptors, notch-2 and notch-3, whose expression were induced by CCH. Notch receptors have been shown to be important for heart patterning and differentiation (Armstrong and Bischoff 2004), cell fate determination and self renewal of stem cells (Androutsellis-Theotokis et al. 2006; Silvia Bianchi 2006) but so far have not been linked to the hypoxic response.
Several genes with links to human heart pathology were found to be upregulated in this study. Among these were two markers for myocardial infarction, complement component C9 and haptoglobin. C9 is used as a marker for myocardial infarction (Doran et al. 1996) and a polymorphism for haptoglobin predicts 30-day mortality and heart failure in patients with diabetes and acute myocardial infarction (Levy et al. 2002). We also observed increased expression of fetuin-α, a circulating calcium-regulatory glycoprotein that inhibits vascular calcification. Low fetuin-α levels have been associated with heart failure in mice (Merx et al. 2005). Upregulation of fetuin-α in the zebrafish heart could help to better tolerate CCH. Selenoprotein P (SEPP1) is a heparin-binding protein that appears to be associated with endothelial cells and has been implicated as an oxidant defense in the extracellular space. Human populations that are selenium deficient are susceptible to the development of Keshan disease, a potentially fatal form of cardiomyopathy (Nezelof et al. 2002). SEPP1 expression was found to be increased in our study indicating a potential protective mechanism against oxidative stress in the heart. This was further supported by the increased expression observed for several genes important for the protection against reactive oxygen species (ROS) (Table 2). Among them were metallothionein and glutathione S-transferase, which are both known ROS scavengers. Metallothionein has further been described to be protective against hypoxia-induced apoptosis when overexpressed (Wang et al. 2001). Our findings suggest ROS protection as an important adaptation to CCH in the fish heart.
Furthermore, our data show for the first time that CCH simultaneously induced upregulation of IGF-2 and the insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 (IGFbp1). In isolated cardiomyoblasts, angiotensin II stimulates IGF-2 expression which is involved in the induction of apoptotic signaling in rat hearts (Lee et al. 2006). We have observed here both angiotensin and IGF-2 upregulation (Table 2). The upregulation of IGFbp1 seems to be a general response to hypoxia in zebrafish embryos, where it mediates hypoxia-induced embryonic growth retardation and developmental delay (Kajimura et al. 2005b). IGFbp1 is a secreted protein, which binds to IGFs in the extracellular environment and prevents receptor activation (Florini et al. 1996; Stewart and Rotwein 1996). Here, IGFbp1 by binding IGF-2, may have prevented both cardioprotective as well as apoptotic effects of enhanced IGF-2 expression. To test the effects of the upregulation of both IGF-2 and IGFbp1, we assayed phospo-Akt levels in cardiac myocytes and showed that phospho-Akt levels were not different between normoxic and hypoxic cells. This suggests that either hypoxia-induced changes in mRNA expression did not occur at the protein level or the effects of increased IGF-2 expression on the IGF-1 receptor (which can be activated by IGF-2) were blunted by the upregulation of the IGFbp1. The fact that we did not observe increased phospho-Akt levels suggests a lack of hypertrophic signaling as enhanced phospho-Akt is required for cardiac hypertrophy (DeBosch et al. 2006). This may be beneficial for the heart as hypertrophy of cardiac myocytes implicates an increase in the diffusion distance for oxygen which may cause the development of anoxic cores (Des Tombe et al. 2002), release of cytochrome c (van Beek-Harmsen and van der Laarse 2005) and production of ROS (Lee et al. 2006; Powers et al. 2007) and eventually causing apoptosis of cardiac myocytes. The importance of the IGF-2/IGFbp1 signaling in the protection of the zebrafish heart and its underlying mechanisms remain to be determined.
The gene expression changes we observed for the specific response to CCH in the fish heart were very different from the responses we observed in an earlier study in the gills (van der Meer et al. 2005). Under the same criteria as used in this study, we found that the majority of differentially regulated genes in the gills showed a decrease in gene expression (68.1% or 250 genes in total) in comparison to genes, which showed increased expression levels (31.9% or 117 genes in total). This is opposed to the heart where 69.1% of differentially regulated genes (260 genes in total) showed increased and 30.9% (116 in total) decreased expression levels. Many genes linked to protein synthesis showed a similar trend, and were downregulated in the gills (van der Meer et al. 2005) and upregulated in the heart (Table 2). The major differences observed in gene regulation between heart and gills point to very tissue specific responses to CCH. A list of genes identified in both studies, as identified by a direct comparison based on Accession numbers and old Unigenes numbers are shown in Supplemental Data 3.
Teleosts have developed specific phenotypic adaptations to low oxygen, due to the natural occurrence of hypoxia in the water environment. Here, we identified the changes in gene expression as well as associated morphological changes of the fish heart to hypoxia. We observed repression of c-fos, which differs compared to the described increase in expression in mammals (Deindl et al. 2003). Other changes found like upregulation of the two Notch receptors have not been described before to the best of our knowledge. Similarly, the simultaneous increase in expression of IGF-2 and IGFbp1 has not been shown. The changes identified here can contribute to the ability of teleosts to adapt to severe hypoxia (for example, the upregulation of fetuin-α and sepp1 levels). Future functional studies are warranted to validate the role of the identified genes in cardiac protection to hypoxia.
We would like to thank Guido van den Thillart for essential help with the hypoxia set up, Gerda Lamers for intensive help with EM microscopy. Maximilian Corredor for his help with data analysis and software, Carlo Rutjes and Patrick Niemantsverdriet for animal care. Dr. Willem van der Laarse and Dr. Siona Slob are acknowledged for their assistance in the optimization of immunohistochemistry. This work was in part supported by a European Commission 6th Framework Programme grant (contract LSHG-CT-2003-503496, ZF-Models) and a grant from the Portuguese foundation for Science and Technology (SFRH/BD/27262/2006). All experiments comply with the current laws of the Netherlands.
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