Transcriptomic response to elevated water temperatures in adult migrating Yukon River Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

Conservation Physiology
By: , and 



Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) declines are widespread and may be attributed, at least in part, to warming river temperatures. Water temperatures in the Yukon River and tributaries often exceed 18°C, a threshold commonly associated with heat stress and elevated mortality in Pacific salmon. Untangling the complex web of direct and indirect physiological effects of heat stress on salmon is difficult in a natural setting with innumerable system challenges but is necessary to increase our understanding of both lethal and sublethal impacts of heat stress on populations. The goal of this study was to characterize the cellular stress response in multiple Chinook salmon tissues after acute elevated temperature challenges. We conducted a controlled 4-hour temperature exposure (control, 18°C and 21°C) experiment on the bank of the Yukon River followed by gene expression (GE) profiling using a 3′-Tag-RNA-Seq protocol. The full transcriptome was analysed for 22 Chinook salmon in muscle, gill and liver tissue. Both the 21°C and 18°C treatments induced greater activity in genes associated with protein folding (e.g. HSP70, HSP90 mRNA) processes in all tissues. Global GE patterns indicate that transcriptomic responses to heat stress were highly tissue-specific, underscoring the importance of analyzing multiple tissues for determination of physiological effect. Primary superclusters (i.e. groupings of loosely related terms) of altered biological processes were identified in each tissue type, including regulation of DNA damage response (gill), regulation by host of viral transcription (liver) and regulation of the force of heart contraction (muscle) in the 21°C treatment. This study provides insight into mechanisms potentially affecting adult Chinook salmon as they encounter warm water during their spawning migration in the Yukon River and suggests that both basic and more specialized cellular functions may be disrupted.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Transcriptomic response to elevated water temperatures in adult migrating Yukon River Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Series title Conservation Physiology
DOI 10.1093/conphys/coaa084
Volume 8
Issue 1
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Oxford Academic
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center, Leetown Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center
Description coaa084, 7 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Yukon River
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