Photoperiod-dependent developmental reprogramming of the transcriptional response to seawater entry in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Marianne Iversen, Teshome Mulugeta, Alexander West, Even H Jørgensen, Samuel A M Martin, Simen Rød Sandve, David Hazlerigg

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The developmental transition of juvenile salmon from a freshwater resident morph (parr) to a seawater (SW) migratory morph (smolt), known as smoltification, entails a reorganization of gill function to cope with the altered water environment. Recently, we used RNAseq to characterize the breadth of transcriptional change which takes place in the gill in the FW phase of smoltification. This highlighted the importance of extended exposure to short, winter-like photoperiods (SP) followed by a subsequent increase in photoperiod for completion of transcriptional reprogramming in FW and for efficient growth following transfer to SW. Here, we extend this analysis to examine the consequences of this photoperiodic history-dependent reprogramming for subsequent gill responses upon exposure to SW. We use RNAseq to analyse gill samples taken from fish raised on the photoperiod regimes we used previously and then challenged by SW exposure for 24-h. While fish held on constant light (LL) throughout were able to hypo-osmoregulate during a 24-h SW challenge, the associated gill transcriptional response was highly distinctive from that in fish which had experienced an 7 week period of exposure to SP followed by a return to LL (SPLL) and had consequently acquired the characteristics of fully developed smolts. Fish transferred from LL to SP, and then held on SP for the remainder of the study were unable to hypo-osmoregulate, and the associated gill transcriptional response to SW exposure featured many transcripts apparently regulated by the glucocorticoid stress axis and by the osmo-sensing transcription factor NFAT5. The importance of these pathways for the gill transcriptional response to SW exposure appears to diminish as a consequence of photoperiod mediated induction of the smolt phenotype, presumably reflecting preparatory developmetal changes taking place during this process.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjkab072
Number of pages9
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics Mission
Issue number4
Early online date12 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • smoltification
  • smolting
  • osmoregulation
  • gills
  • Atlantic salmon
  • photoperiod
  • NFAT5
  • Glucocorticoid receptor


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