An integrated comparative physiology and molecular approach pinpoints mediators of breath-hold capacity in dolphins

Journal Article

AbstractIschemic events, such as ischemic heart disease and ischemic stroke, are the number one cause of death globally. Ischemia prevents blood, carrying essential nutrients and oxygen, from reaching tissues and organ systems, leading to cell and tissue death, and eventual organ failure. While humans are relatively intolerant to these ischemic events, other species, such as marine mammals, have evolved remarkable tolerance to chronic ischemia/reperfusion during diving. Here we capitalized on the unique adaptations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) as a comparative model of ischemic stress and hypoxia tolerance to identify molecular features associated with breath-holding. Using RNA-Seq we observed time-dependent upregulation of the arachidonate 5-lipoxygenase (ALOX5) gene during breath-holding. Consistent with the RNA-Seq data, we also observed increased ALOX5 enzymatic activity in the serum of dolphins undergoing breath holds. ALOX5 has previously been shown to be activated during hypoxia in rodent models, and its metabolites, leukotrienes, induce vasoconstriction. The upregulation of ALOX5 occurred within the estimated aerobic dive limit of the species, suggesting that ALOX5 enzymatic activity may promote tolerance to ischemic stress through sustained vasoconstriction in dolphins during diving. These observations pinpoint a potential molecular mechanism by which dolphins, and perhaps other marine mammals, have adapted to the prolonged breath-holds associated with diving.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Blawas, AM; Ware, KE; Schmaltz, E; Zheng, L; Spruance, J; Allen, AS; West, N; Devos, N; Corcoran, DL; Nowacek, DP; Eward, WC; Fahlman, A; Somarelli, JA

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Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1101/2021.01.20.425775