Avoidance of Apoptosis in Embryonic Cells of the Annual Killifish Austrofundulus Limnaeus Exposed to Anoxia

PLoS One. 2013 Sep 18;8(9):e75837. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075837. eCollection 2013.


Embryos of the annual killifish Austrofunduluslimnaeus have unequalled ability among vertebrates to survive long-term anoxia. Surprisingly, these embryos can survive for months in anoxia despite a large-scale decrease in ATP levels during the initial hours of anoxic exposure. These conditions are known to trigger apoptotic cell death in mammalian cells as a result of ischemia or anoxia. Anoxia-induced induction of apoptosis was investigated in four developmental stages of A. limnaeus that differ in their tolerance of anoxia, and thus may respond to anoxia uniquely. Exposure to staurosporine was used to determine if A. limnaeus cells were competent to enter apoptosis via cues other than anoxia. Apoptotic cells were identified by TUNEL assays and by measuring caspase 3/7 activity. Exposure to 48 hr of anoxia did not induce an increase in TUNEL-positive cells and generally did not lead to an increase in caspase 3/7 activity. However, treatment of anoxic embryos with 10 μM staurosporine resulted in a significant increase in caspase 3/7 activity in both normoxic and anoxic embryos. These results suggest that apoptosis is avoided in embryos of A. limnaeus following exposure to anoxia at least in part by mechanisms that prevent the activation of caspase 3/7 activity. While this mechanism remains unknown, it may be triggered by a protein kinase that can be experimentally inhibited by staurosporine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Caspase 7 / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Fish Proteins / metabolism
  • Hypoxia*
  • Killifishes / embryology*
  • Time Factors


  • Fish Proteins
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 7