Simulated climate change causes immune suppression and protein damage in the crustacean Nephrops norvegicus

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is causing global warming, which affects oceans by elevating water temperature and reducing pH. Crustaceans have been considered tolerant to ocean acidification because of their retained capacity to calcify during subnormal pH. However, we report here that significant immune suppression of the Norway lobster, Nephrops norvegicus, occurs after a 4-month exposure to ocean acidification (OA) at a level predicted for the year 2100 (hypercapnic seawater with a pH lowered by 0.4 units). Experiments carried out at different temperatures (5, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 °C) demonstrated that the temperature within this range alone did not affect lobster immune responses. In the OA-treatment, hemocyte numbers were reduced by almost 50% and the phagocytic capacity of the remaining hemocytes was inhibited by 60%. The reduction in hemocyte numbers was not due to increased apoptosis in hematopoetic tissue. Cellular responses to stress were investigated through evaluating protein carbonyls and lipid oxidation in lobster hepatopancreata, and OA-treatment was shown to significantly increase protein carbonyls, indicating stress-induced protein alterations. Furthermore, the extracellular pH of lobster hemolymph was reduced by approximately 0.2 units in the OA-treatment group, indicating either limited pH compensation or buffering capacity. The negative effects of OA-treatment on the nephropidae immune response and tissue homeostasis were more pronounced at higher temperatures (12–18 °C versus 5 °C), which may potentially affect disease severity and spread. Our results signify that ocean acidification may have adverse effects on the physiology of lobsters, which previously had been overlooked in studies of basic parameters such as lobster growth or calcification.

Hernroth B. H., Nilsson Sköld H., Wiklander K., Jutfelt F. & Baden S., in press. Simulated climate change causes immune suppression and protein damage in the crustacean Nephrops norvegicus. Fish & Shellfish Immunology. Article (subscription required).

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