Skeletal stiffening in an amphibious fish out of water is a response to increased body weight

J Exp Biol. 2017 Oct 15;220(Pt 20):3621-3631. doi: 10.1242/jeb.161638.


Terrestrial animals must support their bodies against gravity, while aquatic animals are effectively weightless because of buoyant support from water. Given this evolutionary history of minimal gravitational loading of fishes in water, it has been hypothesized that weight-responsive musculoskeletal systems evolved during the tetrapod invasion of land and are thus absent in fishes. Amphibious fishes, however, experience increased effective weight when out of water - are these fishes responsive to gravitational loading? Contrary to the tetrapod-origin hypothesis, we found that terrestrial acclimation reversibly increased gill arch stiffness (∼60% increase) in the amphibious fish Kryptolebias marmoratus when loaded normally by gravity, but not under simulated microgravity. Quantitative proteomics analysis revealed that this change in mechanical properties occurred via increased abundance of proteins responsible for bone mineralization in other fishes as well as in tetrapods. Type X collagen, associated with endochondral bone growth, increased in abundance almost ninefold after terrestrial acclimation. Collagen isoforms known to promote extracellular matrix cross-linking and cause tissue stiffening, such as types IX and XII collagen, also increased in abundance. Finally, more densely packed collagen fibrils in both gill arches and filaments were observed microscopically in terrestrially acclimated fish. Our results demonstrate that the mechanical properties of the fish musculoskeletal system can be fine-tuned in response to changes in effective body weight using biochemical pathways similar to those in mammals, suggesting that weight sensing is an ancestral vertebrate trait rather than a tetrapod innovation.

Keywords: Biomechanics; Body support; Collagen remodelling; Microgravity; Phenotypic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight*
  • Bone and Bones / physiology*
  • Cyprinodontiformes / physiology*
  • Environment*