Dehydration, rehydration, and overhydration alter patterns of gene expression in the Antarctic midge, Belgica antarctica

J Comp Physiol B. 2009 May;179(4):481-91. doi: 10.1007/s00360-008-0334-0. Epub 2009 Jan 6.


We investigated molecular responses elicited by three types of dehydration (fast, slow and cryoprotective), rehydration and overhydration in larvae of the Antarctic midge, Belgica antarctica. The larvae spend most the year encased in ice but during the austral summer are vulnerable to summer storms, osmotic stress from ocean spray and drying conditions due to wind and intense sunlight. Using suppressive subtractive hybridization (SSH), we obtained clones that were potentially responsive to dehydration and then used northern blots to evaluate the gene's responsiveness to different dehydration rates and hydration states. Among the genes most responsive to changes in the hydration state were those encoding heat shock proteins (smHsp, Hsp70, Hsp90), antioxidants (superoxide dismutase, catalase), detoxification (metallothionein, cytochrome p450), genes involved in altering cell membranes (fatty acid desaturase, phospholipase A2 activating protein, fatty acyl CoA desaturase) and the cytoskeleton (actin, muscle-specific actin), and several additional genes including a zinc-finger protein, pacifastin and VATPase. Among the three types of dehydration evaluated, fast dehydration elicited the strongest response (more genes, higher expression), followed by cryoprotective dehydration and slow dehydration. During rehydration most, but not all, genes that were expressed during dehydration continued to be expressed; fatty acid desaturase was the only gene to be uniquely upregulated in response to rehydration. All genes examined, except VATPase, were upregulated in response to overhydration. The midge larvae are thus responding quickly to water loss and gain by expressing genes that encode proteins contributing to maintenance of proper protein function, protection and overall cell homeostasis during times of osmotic flux, a challenge that is particularly acute in this Antarctic environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Chironomidae / physiology*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Larva / physiology
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases