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Open Access Research article

Heat-shock responsive genes identified and validated in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) liver, head kidney and skeletal muscle using genomic techniques

Tiago S Hori1, A Kurt Gamperl1, Luis OB Afonso2, Stewart C Johnson3, Sophie Hubert4, Jennifer Kimball5, Sharen Bowman4 and Matthew L Rise1*

Author affiliations

1 Ocean Sciences Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL, A1C 5S7, Canada

2 British Columbia Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences, Campbell River, BC, V9W 2C2, Canada

3 Pacific Biological Station, Department for Fisheries and Oceans, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 6N7, Canada

4 The Atlantic Genome Centre, Halifax, NS, B3H 3Z1, Canada

5 Institute for Marine Biosciences, National Research Council of Canada, Halifax, NS, B3H 3Z1, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2010, 11:72  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-72

Published: 28 January 2010



Daily and seasonal changes in temperature are challenges that fish within aquaculture settings cannot completely avoid, and are known to elicit complex organismal and cellular stress responses. We conducted a large-scale gene discovery and transcript expression study in order to better understand the genes that are potentially involved in the physiological and cellular aspects of stress caused by heat-shock. We used suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH) cDNA library construction and characterization to identify transcripts that were dysregulated by heat-shock in liver, skeletal muscle and head kidney of Atlantic cod. These tissues were selected due to their roles in metabolic regulation, locomotion and growth, and immune function, respectively. Fish were exposed for 3 hours to an 8°C elevation in temperature, and then allowed to recover for 24 hours at the original temperature (i.e. 10°C). Tissue samples obtained before heat-shock (BHS), at the cessation of heat-shock (CS), and 3, 12, and 24 hours after the cessation of heat-shock (ACS), were used for reciprocal SSH library construction and quantitative reverse transcription - polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) analysis of gene expression using samples from a group that was transferred but not heat-shocked (CT) as controls.


We sequenced and characterized 4394 ESTs (1524 from liver, 1451 from head kidney and 1419 from skeletal muscle) from three "forward subtracted" libraries (enriched for genes up-regulated by heat-shock) and 1586 from the liver "reverse subtracted" library (enriched for genes down-regulated by heat-shock), for a total of 5980 ESTs. Several cDNAs encoding putative chaperones belonging to the heat-shock protein (HSP) family were found in these libraries, and "protein folding" was among the gene ontology (GO) terms with the highest proportion in the libraries. QPCR analysis of HSP90α and HSP70-1 (synonym: HSPA1A) mRNA expression showed significant up-regulation in all three tissues studied. These transcripts were more than 100-fold up-regulated in liver following heat-shock. We also identified HSP47, GRP78 and GRP94-like transcripts, which were significantly up-regulated in all 3 tissues studied. Toll-like receptor 22 (TLR22) transcript, found in the liver reverse SSH library, was shown by QPCR to be significantly down-regulated in the head kidney after heat-shock.


Chaperones are an important part of the cellular response to stress, and genes identified in this work may play important roles in resistance to thermal-stress. Moreover, the transcript for one key immune response gene (TLR22) was down-regulated by heat-shock, and this down-regulation may be a component of heat-induced immunosuppression.