Elucidating the acid-base mechanisms underlying otolith overgrowth in fish exposed to ocean acidification


  • Rockfish regulated blood & endolymph pH despite ocean acidification (OA) exposure.
  • Endolymph of OA-exposed fish had higher [HCO3], [CO32−], and Ωaragonite.
  • Preexisting ATPase was sufficient for the increased H+ removal.
  • First evidence linking endolymph of OA-exposed fish favors otolith overgrowth.


Over a decade ago, ocean acidification (OA) exposure was reported to induce otolith overgrowth in teleost fish. This phenomenon was subsequently confirmed in multiple species; however, the underlying physiological causes remain unknown. Here, we report that splitnose rockfish (Sebastes diploproa) exposed to ~1600 μatm pCO2 (pH ~7.5) were able to fully regulated the pH of both blood and endolymph (the fluid that surrounds the otolith within the inner ear). However, while blood was regulated around pH 7.80, the endolymph was regulated around pH ~8.30. These different pH setpoints result in increased pCO2 diffusion into the endolymph, which in turn leads to proportional increases in endolymph [HCO3] and [CO32−]. Endolymph pH regulation despite the increased pCO2 suggests enhanced H+ removal. However, a lack of differences in inner ear bulk and cell-specific Na+/K+-ATPase and vacuolar type H+-ATPase protein abundance localization pointed out to activation of preexisting ATPases, non-bicarbonate pH buffering, or both, as the mechanism for endolymph pH-regulation. These results provide the first direct evidence showcasing the acid-base chemistry of the endolymph of OA-exposed fish favors otolith overgrowth, and suggests that this phenomenon will be more pronounced in species that count with more robust blood and endolymph pH regulatory mechanisms.

Kwan G. T. & Tresguerres M., 2022. Elucidating the acid-base mechanisms underlying otolith overgrowth in fish exposed to ocean acidification. Science of the Total Environment: 153690. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.153690. Article.

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