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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Transcriptomic characterization of cold acclimation in larval zebrafish

Yong Long1, Guili Song1, Junjun Yan12, Xiaozhen He12, Qing Li1 and Zongbin Cui1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Key Laboratory of Aquatic Biodiversity and Conservation, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, Hubei, PR China

2 University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, PR China

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:612  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-612

Published: 11 September 2013



Temperature is one of key environmental parameters that affect the whole life of fishes and an increasing number of studies have been directed towards understanding the mechanisms of cold acclimation in fish. However, the adaptation of larvae to cold stress and the cold-specific transcriptional alterations in fish larvae remain largely unknown. In this study, we characterized the development of cold-tolerance in zebrafish larvae and investigated the transcriptional profiles under cold stress using RNA-seq.


Pre-exposure of 96 hpf zebrafish larvae to cold stress (16°C) for 24 h significantly increased their survival rates under severe cold stress (12°C). RNA-seq generated 272 million raw reads from six sequencing libraries and about 92% of the processed reads were mapped to the reference genome of zebrafish. Differential expression analysis identified 1,431 up- and 399 down-regulated genes. Gene ontology enrichment analysis of cold-induced genes revealed that RNA splicing, ribosome biogenesis and protein catabolic process were the most highly overrepresented biological processes. Spliceosome, proteasome, eukaryotic ribosome biogenesis and RNA transport were the most highly enriched pathways for genes up-regulated by cold stress. Moreover, alternative splicing of 197 genes and promoter switching of 64 genes were found to be regulated by cold stress. A shorter isoform of stk16 that lacks 67 amino acids at the N-terminus was specifically generated by skipping the second exon in cold-treated larvae. Alternative promoter usage was detected for per3 gene under cold stress, which leading to a highly up-regulated transcript encoding a truncated protein lacking the C-terminal domains.


These findings indicate that zebrafish larvae possess the ability to build cold-tolerance under mild low temperature and transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulations are extensively involved in this acclimation process.

Cold stress; Transcriptomic analysis; Zebrafish; RNA-seq; Gene expression