This study addresses the effects of increased mechanical load on the vertebral bone of post-smolt Atlantic salmon by forcing them to swim at controlled speeds. The fish swam continuously in four circular tanks for 9 weeks, two groups at 0.47 body lengths (bl) × s(-1) (non-exercised group) and two groups at 2 bl × s(-1) (exercised group), which is just below the limit for maximum sustained swimming speed in this species. Qualitative data concerning the vertebral structure were obtained from histology and electron microscopy, and quantitative data were based on histomorphometry, high-resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography images and analysis of bone mineral content, while the mechanical properties were tested by compression. Our key findings are that the bone matrix secreted during sustained swimming had significantly higher mineral content and mechanical strength, while no effect was detected on bone in vivo architecture. mRNA levels for two mineralization-related genes bgp and alp were significantly upregulated in the exercised fish, indicating promotion of mineralization. The osteocyte density of the lamellar bone of the amphicoel was also significantly higher in the exercised than non-exercised fish, while the osteocyte density in the cancellous bone was similar in the two groups. The vertebral osteocytes did not form a functional syncytium, which shows that salmon vertebral bone responds to mechanical loading in the absence of an extensive connecting syncytial network of osteocytic cell processes as found in mammals, indicating the existence of a different mechanosensing mechanism. The adaptive response to increased load is thus probably mediated by osteoblasts or bone lining cells, a system in which signal detection and response may be co-located. This study offers new insight into the teleost bone biology, and may have implications for maintaining acceptable welfare for farmed salmon.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Anatomy © 2011 Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.