Little is known about the mechanisms underpinning thermal plasticity of vertebrate hearts. Bluefin tuna hearts offer a unique model to investigate processes underlying thermal acclimation. Their hearts, while supporting an endothermic physiology, operate at ambient temperature, and are presented with a thermal challenge when migrating to different thermal regimes. Here, we examined the molecular responses in atrial and ventricular tissues of Pacific bluefin tuna acclimated to 14°C, 20°C, and 25°C. Quantitative PCR studies showed an increase in sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+) ATPase gene expression with cold acclimation and an induction of Na(+)/Ca(2+)-exchanger gene at both cold and warm temperatures. These data provide evidence for thermal plasticity of excitation-contraction coupling gene expression in bluefin tunas and indicate an increased capacity for internal Ca(2+) storage in cardiac myocytes at 14°C. Transcriptomic analysis showed profound changes in cardiac tissues with acclimation. A principal component analysis revealed that temperature effect was greatest on gene expression in warm-acclimated atrium. Overall data showed an increase in cardiac energy metabolism at 14°C, potentially compensating for cold temperature to optimize bluefin tuna performance in colder oceans. In contrast, metabolic enzyme activity and gene expression data suggest a decrease in ATP production at 25°C. Expression of genes involved in protein turnover and molecular chaperones was also decreased at 25°C. Expression of genes involved in oxidative stress response and programmed cell death suggest an increase in oxidative damage and apoptosis at 25°C, particularly in the atrium. These findings provide insights into molecular processes that may characterize cardiac phenotypes at upper thermal limits of teleosts.
Keywords: bluefin tuna; cardiac function; excitation contraction coupling; temperature acclimation; transcriptomics.