Short- and medium-term exposure to ocean acidification reduces olfactory sensitivity in gilthead seabream

The effects of ocean acidification on fish are only partially understood. Studies on olfaction are mostly limited to behavioral alterations of coral reef fish; studies on temperate species and/or with economic importance are scarce. The current study evaluated the effects of short- and medium-term exposure to ocean acidification on the olfactory system of gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), and attempted to explain observed differences in sensitivity by changes in the protonation state of amino acid odorants. Short-term exposure to elevated PCO2 decreased olfactory sensitivity to some odorants, such as L-serine, L-leucine, L-arginine, L-glutamate, and conspecific intestinal fluid, but not to others, such as L-glutamine and conspecific bile fluid. Seabream were unable to compensate for high PCO2 levels in the medium term; after 4 weeks exposure to high PCO2, the olfactory sensitivity remained lower in elevated PCO2 water. The decrease in olfactory sensitivity in high PCO2 water could be partly attributed to changes in the protonation state of the odorants and/or their receptor(s); we illustrate how protonation due to reduced pH causes changes in the charge distribution of odorant molecules, an essential component for ligand-receptor interaction. However, there are other mechanisms involved. At a histological level, the olfactory epithelium contained higher densities of mucus cells in fish kept in high CO2 water, and a shift in pH of the mucus they produced to more neutral. These differences suggest a physiological response of the olfactory epithelium to lower pH and/or high CO2 levels, but an inability to fully counteract the effects of acidification on olfactory sensitivity. Therefore, the current study provides evidence for a direct, medium term, global effect of ocean acidification on olfactory sensitivity in fish, and possibly other marine organisms, and suggests a partial explanatory mechanism.

Velez Z., Roggatz C. C., Benoit D. M., Hardege J. D. & Hubbard P. C., 2019. Short- and medium-term exposure to ocean acidification reduces olfactory sensitivity in gilthead seabream. Frontiers in Physiology 10: 731. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00731. Article.

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