Cardiac function in an endothermic fish: cellular mechanisms for overcoming acute thermal challenges during diving.

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    Understanding the physiology of vertebrate thermal tolerance is critical for predicting how animals respond to climate change. Pacific bluefin tuna experience a wide range of ambient sea temperatures and occupy the largest geographical niche of all tunas. Their capacity to endure thermal challenge is due in part to enhanced expression and activity of key proteins involved in cardiac excitation-contraction coupling, which improve cardiomyocyte function and whole animal performance during temperature change. To define the cellular mechanisms that enable bluefin tuna hearts to function during acute temperature change, we investigated the performance of freshly isolated ventricular myocytes using confocal microscopy and electrophysiology. We demonstrate that acute cooling and warming (between 8 and 28°C) modulates the excitability of the cardiomyocyte by altering the action potential (AP) duration and the amplitude and kinetics of the cellular Ca(2+) transient. We then explored the interactions between temperature, adrenergic stimulation and contraction frequency, and show that when these stressors are combined in a physiologically relevant way, they alter AP characteristics to stabilize excitation-contraction coupling across an acute 20°C temperature range. This allows the tuna heart to maintain consistent contraction and relaxation cycles during acute thermal challenges. We hypothesize that this cardiac capacity plays a key role in the bluefin tunas' niche expansion across a broad thermal and geographical range.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20141989
    JournalProceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
    Issue number1800
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2015


    • L-type Ca current
    • Thunnus orientalis
    • action potential
    • adrenaline
    • calcium transient
    • heart rate


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