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Dietary GABA enhances hypoxia tolerance of a bottom-dwelling carp, Cirrhinus mrigala by modulating HIF-1α, thyroid hormones and metabolic responses


The Indian major carp, mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala), is a bottom-dwelling fish that can survive hypoxic episodes in its natural environment. We hypothesise that it can better survive hypoxic conditions by altering metabolic responses through GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) supplementation. In the first experiment, the hypoxia tolerance time of the fishes was evaluated under extreme anoxic conditions after feeding with GABA, which showed that GABA had improved survival time under hypoxia. To study the response of dietary GABA in hypoxia-exposed fish, the branchial HIF-1α expression levels, serum thyroid hormone levels and hepatic metabolic responses were assessed in the subsequent experiment. The treatment groups were fed for 60 days with experimental diets containing 4 levels of GABA (0.00% G, 0.50% G, 0.75% G and 1.0%G) and were subjected to 72-h hypoxia exposure (0.5 ± 0.02 mg L−1 dissolved oxygen (DO)) whereas a control group was maintained under normoxic conditions (6.0 ± 0.21 mg L−1 DO). The five treatment groups with three replicates were C0 (0% G + normoxia), H0 (0% G + hypoxia), H0.5 (0.50% G + hypoxia), H0.75 (0.75% G + hypoxia) and H1.0 (1.00% G + hypoxia). The results indicated that GABA supplementation triggered downregulation of HIF 1 alpha expression. When compared with the control group, decreased thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) levels were observed in the GABA-fed hypoxic groups. However, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level remained unchanged in all the treatments. The LDH (lactate dehydrogenase) level in hypoxia-exposed groups was decreased by GABA supplementation. Our study demonstrated that GABA supplementation restores acute hypoxia-induced HIF-1α expression, thyroid hormone levels and LDH activities. On the other hand, it enhanced the citrate synthase (CS) activities at 0.5–1.00%, which showed a sharp decline in hypoxia. Hypoxia caused increase in the serum metabolites such as glucose, lactate, cholesterol and triglycerides. However, GABA supplementation was partially effective in reducing glucose and lactate level while triglycerides and cholesterol values remained unchanged. Overall, our results suggested a potential role of GABA in suppressing metabolism during hypoxia exposure, which can increase the chances of survival of the species Cirrhinus mrigala during hypoxia.

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The first author is grateful to the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR)-Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), for providing necessary facilities and fund for the research.

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Correspondence to Tincy Varghese.

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The research undertaken complies with the current animal welfare laws in India, and the use of animals in this study was in accordance with the guidelines of the CPCSEA ((Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals), Ministry of Environment & Forests (Animal Welfare Division), Govt. of India) on care and use of animals in scientific research. The study was undertaken with the approval of statutory authorities of the Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai, India (University under Sec. 3 of University Grants Commission Act and ISO 9001:2008 certified).

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Varghese, T., Rejish Kumar, V.J., Anand, G. et al. Dietary GABA enhances hypoxia tolerance of a bottom-dwelling carp, Cirrhinus mrigala by modulating HIF-1α, thyroid hormones and metabolic responses. Fish Physiol Biochem 46, 199–212 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10695-019-00708-4

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  • GABA
  • Hypoxia
  • Thyroid function test
  • HIF-1α
  • CS
  • HK
  • LDH
  • Metabolic modifier