Altered brain ion gradients following compensation for elevated CO2 are linked to behavioural alterations in a coral reef fish

R. M. Heuer, M. J. Welch, J. L. Rummer, P. L. Munday, M. Grosell

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49 Scopus citations


Neurosensory and behavioural disruptions are some of the most consistently reported responses upon exposure to ocean acidification-relevant CO2 levels, especially in coral reef fishes. The underlying cause of these disruptions is thought to be altered current across the GABA A receptor in neuronal cells due to changes in ion gradients (HCO3-and/or Cl-) that occur in the body following compensation for elevated ambient CO2. Despite these widely-documented behavioural disruptions, the present study is the first to pair a behavioural assay with measurements of relevant intracellular and extracellular acid-base parameters in a coral reef fish exposed to elevated CO2. Spiny damselfish (Acanthochromis polyacanthus) exposed to 1900 μatm CO2 for 4 days exhibited significantly increased intracellular and extracellular HCO3-concentrations and elevated brain pH i compared to control fish, providing evidence of CO2 compensation. As expected, high CO2 exposed damselfish spent significantly more time in a chemical alarm cue (CAC) than control fish, supporting a potential link between behavioural disruption and CO2 compensation. Using HCO3-measurements from the damselfish, the reversal potential for GABA A (E GABA) was calculated, illustrating that biophysical properties of the brain during CO2 compensation could change GABA A receptor function and account for the behavioural disturbances noted during exposure to elevated CO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33216
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Sep 13 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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