Coping with Ice: Freeze Avoidance in the Antarctic Silverfish (Pleuragramma antarctica) from Egg to Adult

  • Clive W. EvansEmail author
  • Arthur L. DeVries
Part of the Advances in Polar Ecology book series (AVPE, volume 3)


The Antarctic silverfish survives in a hostile environment that includes hatching into a zone laden with platelet ice. Embryonated eggs and hatchling larvae lack adequate levels of antifreeze to survive in this environment, but they are afforded physical protection against freezing by the presence of a resistant chorion (around the embryonated eggs) and a resistant external epithelium (around the larvae). Adult Antarctic silverfish also have low levels of antifreeze, but they are less likely to tolerate freezing conditions than their eggs or larvae because of damage to their external epithelium suffered during their lifetime allowing for ice entry. Like most other notothenioids, the Antarctic silverfish synthesises antifreeze glycoproteins (AFGPs), primarily in acinar cells of the exocrine pancreas. From here they are secreted directly into the digestive tract, ultimately dispersing throughout the body after uptake in the rectum and transfer into the blood circulatory system. Surprisingly, the Antarctic silverfish lacks the full range of AFGP isoforms (AFGP1-8), having instead a single dominant ~20 kDa form with some minor AFGP6 variants. The total serum AFGP concentration is relatively low, providing about 0.2 °C thermal hysteresis. Total serum hysteresis, however, is ~1.3 °C, the increase being provided by a novel antifreeze protein that behaves akin to the antifreeze potentiating protein (AFPP) described in other notothenioids. Nonetheless, this level of protection is below that required for survival in a freezing environment and thus adult Antarctic silverfish can only survive in locales free of ice crystals.


AFGP AFP AFPP Antifreeze Hysteresis Exocrine pancreas Superheating 



Supported in part by a grant from Office of Polar Programs, NSF to ALD. We thank colleagues at Scott Base, McMurdo Station and Stazione Mario Zucchelli for field assistance, and the respective national Antarctic programmes for logistic support. We are grateful to Vivian Ward for her assistance with the graphics, and Liyana Nouxman for her contribution to the microscopy.

This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of John A Macdonald, our friend and colleague who was a respected and much liked long-term member of the Antarctic scientific community.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Animal BiologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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