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null (Ed.)Insights from extreme-adapted organisms, which have evolved natural strategies for promoting survivability under severe environmental pressures, may help guide future research into novel approaches for enhancing human longevity. The cave-adapted Mexican tetra,Astyanax mexicanus, has attracted interest as a model system for metabolic resilience, a term we use to denote the property of maintaining robust health and longevity under conditions that would have highly deleterious effects in other organisms (Fig 1). Cave-dwelling populations of Mexi-can tetra exhibit elevated blood glucose and possess a mutation in the insulin receptor that in humans has been linked to Rabson-Mendenhall syndrome, a condition characterized by severe insulin resistance that causes numerous developmental abnormalities, is highly associated with debilitating progression, and drastically reduces lifespan. In addition, cavefish develop large numbers of hypertrophic visceral adipocytes and possess vastly enriched stores of body fat compared to surface-dwelling counterparts. However, cavefish appear to avoid the progression of the respective pathologies typically associated with these conditions, such as accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), chronic tissue inflammation, impaired growth due to insulin dysregulation, and low survivability due to arterial disease. The metabolic strategies underlying the resilience properties of A. mexicanus cavefish, and how they relate to environmental challenges of the cave environment, are poorly understood. Here, we provide an untargeted metabolomics study of long- and short-term fasting in two A. mexicanus cave populations and one surface population. We find that, although cave-fish share many similarities with metabolic syndrome normally associated with the human state of obesity, important differences emerge, including a reduction in cholesteryl esters and intermediates of protein glycation, and an increase in antioxidants and metabolites associated with hypoxia and longevity. We find important overlaps between metabolic alterations in cave-dwelling Mexican tetra and other models of resilience and extreme longevity, such as naked mole-rats, including enhanced reliance on sugars as an energy source and a trend toward more potent antioxidant activity. This work suggests that certain metabolic features associated with human pathologies are not intrinsically harmful, but are rather consequences of suboptimal adaptation of humans to survival under adverse metabolic conditions, and suggests promising avenues for future investigation into the role of metabolic strategies in evolutionary adaptation and health. We provide a transparent pipeline for reproducing our analysis and a Shiny app for other researchers to explore and visualize our dataset.more » « less
Extreme environments often result in the evolution of dramatic adaptive features. The Mexican tetra,
Astyanax mexicanus, includes 30 different populations of cave‐dwelling forms that live in perpetual darkness. As a consequence, many populations have evolved eye loss, reduced pigmentation, and amplification of nonvisual sensory systems. Closely‐related surface‐dwelling morphs demonstrate typical vision, pigmentation, and sensation. Transcriptomic assessments in this system have revealed important developmental changes associated with the cave morph, however, they have not accounted for photic rearing conditions. Prior studies reared individuals under a 12:12 hr light/dark (LD) cycle. Here, we reared cavefish under constant darkness (DD) for 5+ years. From these experimental individuals, we performed mRNA sequencing and compared gene expression of surface fish reared under LD conditions to cavefish reared under DD conditions to identify photic‐dependent gene expression differences. Gene Ontology enrichment analyses revealed a number of previously underappreciated cave‐associated changes impacting blood physiology and olfaction. We further evaluated the position of differentially expressed genes relative to QTL positions from prior studies and found several candidate genes associated with these ecologically relevant lighting conditions. In sum, this work highlights photic conditions as a key environmental factor impacting gene expression patterns in blind cave‐dwelling fish.
Studying how different genotypes respond to environmental variation is essential to understand the genetic basis of adaptation. The Mexican tetra,
Astyanax mexicanus, has cave and surface‐dwelling morphotypes that have adapted to entirely different environments in the wild, and are now successfully maintained in lab conditions. While this has enabled the identification of genetic adaptations underlying a variety of physiological processes, few studies have directly compared morphotypes between lab‐reared and natural populations. Such comparative approaches could help dissect the varying effects of environment and morphotype, and determine the extent to which phenomena observed in the lab are generalizable to conditions in the field. To this end, we take a transcriptomic approach to compare the Pachón cavefish and their surface fish counterparts in their natural habitats and the lab environment. We identify key changes in expression of genes implicated in metabolism and physiology between groups of fish, suggesting that morphotype (surface or cave) and environment (natural or lab) both alter gene expression. We find gene expression differences between cave and surface fish in their natural habitats are much larger than differences in expression between morphotypes in the lab environment. However, lab‐raised cave and surface fish still exhibit numerous gene expression changes, supporting genetically encoded changes in livers of this species. From this, we conclude that a controlled laboratory environment may serve as an ideal setting to study the genetic underpinnings of metabolic and physiological differences between the cavefish and surface fish.
Aggression is observed across the animal kingdom, and benefits animals in a number of ways to increase fitness and promote survival. While aggressive behaviors vary widely across populations and can evolve as an adaptation to a particular environment, the complexity of aggressive behaviors presents a challenge to studying the evolution of aggression. The Mexican tetra,
Astyanax mexicanusexists as an aggressive river-dwelling surface form and multiple populations of a blind cave form, some of which exhibit reduced aggression, providing the opportunity to investigate how evolution shapes aggressive behaviors. Results
To define how aggressive behaviors evolve, we performed a high-resolution analysis of multiple social behaviors that occur during aggressive interactions in
A. mexicanus.We found that many of the aggression-associated behaviors observed in surface-surface aggressive encounters were reduced or lost in Pachón cavefish. Interestingly, one behavior, circling, was observed more often in cavefish, suggesting evolution of a shift in the types of social behaviors exhibited by cavefish. Further, detailed analysis revealed substantive differences in aggression-related sub-behaviors in independently evolved cavefish populations, suggesting independent evolution of reduced aggression between cave populations. We found that many aggressive behaviors are still present when surface fish fight in the dark, suggesting that these reductions in aggression-associated and escape-associated behaviors in cavefish are likely independent of loss of vision in this species. Further, levels of aggression within populations were largely independent of type of opponent (cave vs. surface) or individual stress levels, measured through quantifying stress-like behaviors, suggesting these behaviors are hardwired and not reflective of population-specific changes in other cave-evolved traits. Conclusion
These results reveal that loss of aggression in cavefish evolved through the loss of multiple aggression-associated behaviors and raise the possibility that independent genetic mechanisms underlie changes in each behavior within populations and across populations. Taken together, these findings reveal the complexity of evolution of social behaviors and establish
A. mexicanusas a model for investigating the evolutionary and genetic basis of aggressive behavior.
Rétaux, Sylvie (Ed.)Fish display a remarkable diversity of social behaviors, both within and between species. While social behaviors are likely critical for survival, surprisingly little is known about how they evolve in response to changing environmental pressures. With its highly social surface form and multiple populations of a largely asocial, blind, cave-dwelling form, the Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus , provides a powerful model to study the evolution of social behavior. Here we use motion tracking and analysis of swimming kinematics to quantify social swimming in four Astyanax mexicanus populations. In the light, surface fish school, maintaining both close proximity and alignment with each other. In the dark, surface fish no longer form coherent schools, however, they still show evidence of an attempt to align and maintain proximity when they find themselves near another fish. In contrast, cavefish from three independently-evolved populations (Pachón, Molino, Tinaja) show little preference for proximity or alignment, instead exhibiting behaviors that suggest active avoidance of each other. Two of the three cave populations we studied also slow down when more fish are present in the tank, a behavior which is not observed in surface fish in light or the dark, suggesting divergent responses to conspecifics. Using data-driven computer simulations, we show that the observed reduction in swimming speed is sufficient to alter the way fish explore their environment: it can increase time spent exploring away from the walls. Thus, the absence of schooling in cavefish is not merely a consequence of their inability to see, but may rather be a genuine behavioral adaptation that impacts the way they explore their environment.more » « less