Plasticity of osmoregulatory function in the killifish intestine: Drinking rates, salt and water transport, and gene expression after freshwater transfer

Graham R. Scott, Patricia M. Schulte, Chris M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


We have explored intestinal function in the euryhaline killifish Fundulus heteroclitus after transfer from brackish water (10% seawater) to fresh water. Plasma Na+ and Cl- concentrations fell at 12 h post-transfer, but recovered by 7 days. Drinking rate decreased substantially at 12 h (32% of control value) and remained suppressed after 3 and 7 days in fresh water (34 and 43%). By contrast, there was a transient increase in the capacity for water absorption measured across isolated intestines in vitro (3.3- and 2.6-fold at 12 h and 3 days), which returned to baseline after 7 days. These changes in water absorption could be entirely accounted for by changes in net ion flux: there was an extremely strong correlation (R2=0.960) between water absorption and the sum of net Na+ and net Cl - fluxes (3.42±0.10 μl water μmol-1 ion). However, enhanced ion transport across the intestine in fresh water would probably not increase water uptake in vivo, because the drinking rate was far less than the capacity for water absorption across the intestine. The increased intestinal ion absorption after freshwater transfer may instead serve to facilitate ion absorption from food when it is present in the gut. Modulation of net ion flux occurred without changes in mRNA levels of many ion transporters (Na+/K+-ATPase α1a, carbonic anhydrase 2, CFTR Cl- channel, Na+/K+/2Cl- cotransporter 2, and the signalling protein 14-3-3a), and before a measured increase in Na+/K+-ATPase activity at 3 days, suggesting that there is some other mechanism responsible for increasing ion transport. Interestingly, net Cl- flux always exceeded net Na+ flux, possibly to help maintain Cl- balance and/or facilitate bicarbonate excretion. Our results suggest that intestinal NaCl absorption from food is important during the period of greatest ionic disturbance after transfer to fresh water, and provide further insight into the mechanisms of euryhalinity in killifish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4040-4050
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Carbonic anhydrase
  • CFTR
  • Cortisol
  • Drinking rate
  • Fish
  • Fundulus heteroclitus
  • Intestine
  • Ion flux
  • Na/K-ATPase
  • NKCC
  • Water absorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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