Authors: Andrews CD, Payne JF, Rise ML
Functional genomic studies were carried out on the inner ear of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar following exposure to a seismic airgun. Microarray analyses revealed 79 unique transcripts (passing background threshold), with 42 reproducibly up-regulated and 37 reproducibly down-regulated in exposed v. control fish. Regarding the potential effects on cellular energetics and cellular respiration, altered transcripts included those with roles in oxygen transport, the glycolytic pathway, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain. Of these, a number of transcripts encoding haemoglobins that are important in oxygen transport were up-regulated and among the most highly expressed. Up-regulation of transcripts encoding nicotinamide riboside kinase 2, which is also important in energy production and linked to nerve cell damage, points to evidence of neuronal damage in the ear following noise exposure. Transcripts related to protein modification or degradation also indicated potential damaging effects of sound on ear tissues. Notable in this regard were transcripts associated with the proteasome-ubiquitin pathway, which is involved in protein degradation, with the transcript encoding ubiquitin family domain-containing protein 1 displaying the highest response to exposure. The differential expression of transcripts observed for some immune responses could potentially be linked to the rupture of cell membranes. Meanwhile, the altered expression of transcripts for cytoskeletal proteins that contribute to the structural integrity of the inner ear could point to repair or regeneration of ear tissues including auditory hair cells. Regarding potential effects on hormones and vitamins, the protein carrier for thyroxine and retinol (vitamin A), namely transthyretin, was altered at the transcript expression level and it has been suggested from studies in mammalian systems that retinoic acid may play a role in the regeneration of damaged hair cells. The microarray experiment identified the transcript encoding growth hormone I as up-regulated by loud sound, supporting previous evidence linking growth hormone to hair cell regeneration in fishes. Quantitative (q) reverse transcription (RT) polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) analyses confirmed dysregulation of some microarray-identified transcripts and in some cases revealed a high level of biological variability in the exposed group. These results support the potential utility of molecular biomarkers to evaluate the effect of seismic surveys on fishes with studies on the ears being placed in a priority category for development of exposure-response relationships. Knowledge of such relationships is necessary for addressing the question of potential size of injury zones.