Teleost fishes are able to acclimatize to seawater by secreting excess NaCl by means of specialized “ionocytes” in the gill epithelium. Antibodies against Na+/K+-ATPase (NKA) have been used since 1996 as a marker for identifying branchial ionocytes. Immunohistochemistry of NKA by itself and in combination with Na+/K+/2Cl− cotransporter and CFTR Cl− channel provided convincing evidence that ionocytes are functional during seawater acclimation, and also revealed morphological variations in ionocytes among teleost species. Recent development of antibodies to freshwater- and seawater-specific isoforms of the NKA alpha-subunit has allowed functional distinction of ion absorptive and secretory ionocytes in Atlantic salmon. Cutaneous ionocytes of tilapia embryos serve as a model for branchial ionocytes, allowing identification of 4 types: two involved in ion uptake, one responsible for salt secretion and one with unknown function. Combining molecular genetics, advanced imaging techniques and immunohistochemistry will rapidly advance our understanding of both the unity and diversity of ionocyte function and regulation in fish osmoregulation.
Additional publication details
New insights into gill ionocyte and ion transporter function in euryhaline and diadromous fish