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  1. Insights from organisms, which have evolved natural strategies for promoting survivability under extreme 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 health and longevity under conditions that would be highly deleterious in other organisms (Figure 1). Cave-dwelling populations of Mexican tetra exhibit elevated blood glucose, insulin resistance and hypertrophic visceral adipocytes compared to surface-dwelling counterparts. However, cavefish appear to avoid pathologies typically associated with these conditions, such as accumulation of advanced-glycation-end-products (AGEs) and chronic tissue inflammation. 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 the metabolome of cavefish bears many similarities with pathological conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cavefish also exhibit features not commonly associated with a pathological condition, and in some cases considered indicative of an overall robust metabolic condition. These includemore »a reduction in cholesteryl esters and intermediates of protein glycation, and an increase in antioxidants and metabolites associated with hypoxia and longevity. This work suggests that certain metabolic features associated with human pathologies are either not intrinsically harmful, or can be counteracted by reciprocal adaptations. We provide a transparent pipeline for reproducing our analysis and a Shiny app for other researchers to explore and visualize our dataset.« less
  2. Abstract

    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.

  3. Changes in cis-regulatory elements play important roles in adaptation and phenotypic evolution. However, their contribution to metabolic adaptation of organisms is less understood. Here we have utilized a unique vertebrate model, Astyanax mexicanus, different morphotypes of which survive in nutrient-rich surface and nutrient-deprived cave water to uncover gene regulatory networks in metabolic adaptation. We performed genome-wide epigenetic profiling in the liver tissue of one surface and two independently derived cave populations. We find that many cis-regulatory elements differ in their epigenetic status/chromatin accessibility between surface fish and cavefish, while the two independently derived cave populations have evolved remarkably similar regulatory signatures. These differentially accessible regions are associated with genes of key pathways related to lipid metabolism, circadian rhythm and immune system that are known to be altered in cavefish. Using in vitro and in vivo functional testing of the candidate cis-regulatory elements, we find that genetic changes within them cause quantitative expression differences. We characterized one cis-regulatory element in the hpdb gene and found a genomic deletion in cavefish that abolishes binding of the transcriptional repressor IRF2 in vitro and derepresses enhancer activity in reporter assays. Genetic experiments further validated a cis-mediated role of the enhancer and suggest a rolemore »of this deletion in the upregulation of hpdb in wild cavefish populations. Selection of this mutation in multiple independent cave populations supports its importance in the adaptation to the cave environment, providing novel molecular insights into the evolutionary trade-off between loss of pigmentation and adaptation to a food-deprived cave environment.« less
  4. Reduced parasitic infection rates in the developed world are suspected to underlie the rising prevalence of autoimmune disorders. However, the long-term evolutionary consequences of decreased parasite exposure on an immune system are not well understood. We used the Mexican tetra Astyanax mexicanus to understand how loss of parasite diversity influences the evolutionary trajectory of the vertebrate immune system, by comparing river with cave morphotypes. Here, we present field data affirming a strong reduction in parasite diversity in the cave ecosystem, and show that cavefish immune cells display a more sensitive pro-inflammatory response towards bacterial endotoxins. Surprisingly, other innate cellular immune responses, such as phagocytosis, are drastically decreased in cavefish. Using two independent single-cell approaches, we identified a shift in the overall immune cell composition in cavefish as the underlying cellular mechanism, indicating strong differences in the immune investment strategy. While surface fish invest evenly into the innate and adaptive immune systems, cavefish shifted immune investment to the adaptive immune system, and here, mainly towards specific T-cell populations that promote homeostasis. Additionally, inflammatory responses and immunopathological phenotypes in visceral adipose tissue are drastically reduced in cavefish. Our data indicate that long-term adaptation to low parasite diversity coincides with a more sensitivemore »immune system in cavefish, which is accompanied by a reduction in the immune cells that play a role in mediating the pro-inflammatory response.« less
  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, supportingmore »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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  6. Abstract

    The outcome of the ongoing biodiversity crisis depends on the capacity of the Earth’s wildlife to persist in working landscapes. Yet, the species that occupy working landscapes are often distinct from those in protected areas, with a large group of “sensitive species” thought to rarely venture into human‐dominated landscapes. As governments have committed to restoring degraded lands world‐wide, determining whether and how working landscapes can be restored to benefit sensitive species remains a major challenge.

    We surveyed Neotropical birds across Northwestern Costa Rica in protected areas, farms and forests embedded within working landscapes. We analysed community composition to understand how gradients of forest cover, fragmentation and regional precipitation determine how conserving (or restoring) tropical forests in working landscapes could safeguard entire communities, especially sensitive species with limited ranges.

    We found agricultural sites maintained relatively high bird diversity but hosted very distinct communities from those found in protected areas. The average range size of species found in agricultural communities was double the size of species in protected areas. However, high forest cover sites in working landscapes housed bird communities with small range sizes that were equivalent to those in nearby protected areas, despite being twice as fragmented and significantly more disturbed.

    The effectmore »of local forest cover on bird composition was contingent on both landscape context and regional climate. When local forest cover increased in wetter regions and more forested landscapes, bird communities in working landscapes exhibited a stronger shift towards the assemblages found in protected areas. Specifically, we found that reforesting the wettest sites would increase similarity to protected areas fourfold compared to only a twofold increase in the driest sites.

    Synthesis and applications.Despite experiencing much more fragmentation and degradation than protected areas, forests in Costa Rican working landscapes can maintain bird communities that strongly resemble those found in protected areas. This suggests that conserving or restoring forests in working landscapes, particularly within wetter regions and already forested landscapes, may safeguard bird communities when creating protected areas is infeasible.

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  7. 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.