Open Access Research article

Transcriptional responses to temperature and low oxygen stress in Atlantic salmon studied with next-generation sequencing technology

Pål A Olsvik1*, Vibeke Vikeså12, Kai K Lie1 and Ernst M Hevrøy1

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, Nordnesboder 1-2, N-5005 Bergen, Norway

2 Skretting Aquaculture Research Center, P.O. Box 48N-4001, Stavanger, Norway

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:817  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-817

Published: 22 November 2013



Warmer seawater as a result of climate change may impose environmental challenges for Atlantic salmon aquaculture in its southernmost geographic range. Seawater temperatures above optimal level for growth may be reached in the warmest summer weeks. Caged fish can experience temperature and low oxygen saturation stress during such episodes, raising fish welfare and productivity concerns. In this work we compare the transcriptional responses in Atlantic salmon exposed to chronic high temperature (19°C) and low oxygen saturation (4-5 mg/L) stress.


We used next-generation sequencing and RT-qPCR to screen for effects, and focused on growth regulation and oxidative stress in fish exposed to sub-optimal conditions. Both prolonged temperature (45 days) and low oxygen (120 days) stress had a significant negative effect on growth. The main effect of heat stress appears to be a general reduced transcriptional rate in salmon liver, while mechanisms typically associated with responses induced by chemical drugs were stimulated. Heat stress significantly down-regulated several transcripts encoding proteins involved in the protection against oxidative stress, including CuZn SOD, Mn SOD, GPx1 and GR, as well as additional stress markers HIF1A, CYP1A, MTOR and PSMC2 (RT-qPCR data). In salmon held at low oxygen concentration for four months protein ubiquitination (protein catabolism) was the most strongly affected pathway. According to the RT-qPCR data, low oxygen stress significantly up-regulated the transcriptional levels of IGFBP1B and down-regulated the levels of GR. Pathway analysis suggests that high temperature and low oxygen saturation stress affects many similar mechanisms in Atlantic salmon. Based on the gene lists, six out of the top ten predicted upstream transcriptional regulators, 1,2-dithiol-3-thione sirolimus, CD437, 5-fluorouracil, HNF4A and NFE2L2, were similar between the two treatments.


In conclusion, temperature and low oxygen saturation stress affect many identical mechanisms in liver cells resulting in a metabolic depression, but these effects are not necessarily mediated through altered transcription of the same genes.

Farmed salmon; Climate change; Temperature and hypoxia stress; Next-generation sequencing