Hypoxia and toxic metals are two common stressors found in the estuarine environment. To date little information is available on the combined effects of these stressors on early larval development in fish. We investigated the effect of cadmium and hypoxia exposure alone as well in combination on larval Cyprinodon variegatus. The LC(10) for cadmium was determined to be 0.3 ppm in a 96 h acute exposure. This concentration was used in all studies. Cadmium in larvae increased significantly with exposure time (1, 3, 5 and 7 days post-hatch). The increase was proportional to body weight and not affected by hypoxia. Cadmium responsive genes were identified by suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH) in Cyprinodon variegatus larvae after exposure to cadmium for 1, 3, 5 and 7 days. We obtained over 700 sequences from the cadmium cDNA library. Blast search of ESTs suggested that cadmium modulates multiple physiological processes. Pertinent to this study, cadmium was found to down-regulate both embryonic alpha and beta globin, which are expressed in erythrocytes generated during the first, or primitive, wave of erythropoiesis in teleosts. Hemoglobin (Hb) and erythropoietin (Epo) (the hormone that promotes red blood cell production) are known hypoxia-inducible genes. To explore the possibility that cadmium might offset the hypoxia-induced expression of Hb and Epo, we investigated the expression of both genes following hypoxia, cadmium and combined exposures for 1, 3, 5 and 7 days post-hatch. Since Epo had not yet been identified in C. variegatus we first successfully cloned a partial coding sequence of the C. variegatus hormone. Subsequent studies revealed that expression levels of Hb and Epo remained unchanged in the normoxic controls during the time course of the study. Hypoxia increased Epo expression relative to normoxic controls, on days 3, 5 and 7, while cadmium in hypoxia inhibited the increase. Only the changes on days 5 and 7 were statistically significant. Hypoxia also lead to a modest, but significant induction of Hb after 5 days. However, in spite of the Cd-induced down-regulation of Epo on day 5, Cd did not affect the hypoxia-induced expression of embryonic Hb at this time point. It appears therefore that Epo has only limited effect on primitive erythropoiesis in C. variegatus.
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