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Title: Liver-derived cell lines from cavefish Astyanax mexicanus as an in vitro model for studying metabolic adaptation

Cell lines have become an integral resource and tool for conducting biological experiments ever since the Hela cell line was first developed (Scherer et al. in J Exp Med 97:695–710, 1953). They not only allow detailed investigation of molecular pathways but are faster and more cost-effective than most in vivo approaches. The last decade saw many emerging model systems strengthening basic science research. However, lack of genetic and molecular tools in these newer systems pose many obstacles.Astyanax mexicanusis proving to be an interesting new model system for understanding metabolic adaptation. To further enhance the utility of this system, we developed liver-derived cell lines from both surface-dwelling and cave-dwelling morphotypes. In this study, we provide detailed methodology of the derivation process along with comprehensive biochemical and molecular characterization of the cell lines, which reflect key metabolic traits of cavefish adaptation. We anticipate these cell lines to become a useful resource for theAstyanaxcommunity as well as researchers investigating fish biology, comparative physiology, and metabolism.

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Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
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Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    In vitro assays are crucial tools for gaining detailed insights into various biological processes, including metabolism. Cave morphs of the river‐dwelling fish species,Astyanax mexicanus, have adapted their metabolism allowing them to thrive in the biodiversity‐deprived and nutrient‐limited environment of caves. Liver‐derived cells from the cave and river morphs ofA. mexicanushave proven to be excellent in vitro resources to better understand the unique metabolism of these fish. However, the current 2D cultures have not fully captured the complex metabolic profile of theAstyanaxliver. It is known that 3D culturing can modulate the transcriptomic state of cells when compared to its 2D monolayer culture. Therefore, to broaden the possibilities of the in vitro system by modeling a wider gamut of metabolic pathways, we cultured the liver‐derivedAstyanaxcells of both surface and cavefish into 3D spheroids. We successfully established 3D cultures at various cell seeding densities for several weeks and characterized the resultant transcriptomic and metabolic variations. We found that the 3D culturedAstyanaxcells exhibit an altered transcriptomic profile and consequently represent a wider range of metabolic pathways, including cell cycle changes and antioxidant activities, associated with liver functioning as compared to its monolayer culture. Enzymatic assay measuring antioxidants in 2D culture and 3D spheroids also revealed enhanced antioxidative capacity of 3D cultured spheroids, in line with the differential gene expression data. Additionally, the spheroids also exhibited surface and cave‐specific metabolic signatures, making it a suitable system for evolutionary studies associated with cave adaptation. Notably, cavefish derived spheroids enriched for genes responding to xenobiotic stimulus, while the ones from surface enriched for immune response, both of which resonated with known physiologically adaptations associated with each morph. Taken together, the liver‐derived spheroids prove to be a promising in vitro model for widening our understanding of metabolism inA. mexicanusand of vertebrates in general.

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  2. Abstract Background

    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.


    To define how aggressive behaviors evolve, we performed a high-resolution analysis of multiple social behaviors that occur during aggressive interactions inA. 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.


    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 establishA. mexicanusas a model for investigating the evolutionary and genetic basis of aggressive behavior.

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  3. 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. 
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  4. Abstract Background

    Astyanax mexicanusis a well‐established fish model system for evolutionary and developmental biology research. These fish exist as surface forms that inhabit rivers and 30 different populations of cavefish. Despite important progress in the deployment of new technologies, deep mechanistic insights into the genetic basis of evolution, development, and behavior have been limited by a lack of transgenic lines commonly used in genetic model systems.


    Here, we expand the toolkit of transgenesis by characterizing two novel stable transgenic lines that were generated using the highly efficientTol2system, commonly used to generate transgenic zebrafish. A stable transgenic line consisting of the zebrafish ubiquitin promoter expresses enhanced green fluorescent protein ubiquitously throughout development in a surface population ofAstyanax. To define specific cell‐types, a Cntnap2‐mCherry construct labels lateral line mechanosensory neurons in zebrafish. Strikingly, both constructs appear to label the predicted cell types, suggesting many genetic tools and defined promoter regions in zebrafish are directly transferrable to cavefish.


    The lines provide proof‐of‐principle for the application ofTol2transgenic technology inA. mexicanus. Expansion on these initial transgenic lines will provide a platform to address broadly important problems in the quest to bridge the genotype‐phenotype gap.

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  5. Abstract

    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.

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