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Sep 04, 2015
BACKGROUND: African weakly-electric fishes of the family Mormyridae are able to produce and perceive weak electric signals (typically less than one volt in amplitude) owing to the presence of a specialized, muscle-derived electric organ (EO) in their tail region. Such electric signals, also known as Electric Organ Discharges (EODs), are used for objects/prey localization, for the identification of conspecifics, and in social and reproductive behaviour. This feature might have promoted the adaptive radiation of this family by acting as an effective pre-zygotic isolation mechanism. Despite the physiological and evolutionary importance of this trait, the investigation of the genetic basis of its function and modification has so far remained limited. In this study, we aim at: i) identifying constitutive differences in terms of gene expression between electric organ and skeletal muscle (SM) in two mormyrid species of the genus Campylomormyrus: C. compressirostris and C. tshokwe, and ii) exploring cross-specific patterns of gene expression within the two tissues among C. compressirostris, C. tshokwe, and the outgroup species Gnathonemus petersii. RESULTS: Twelve paired-end (100 bp) strand-specific RNA-seq Illumina libraries were sequenced, producing circa 330 M quality-filtered short read pairs. The obtained reads were assembled de novo into four reference transcriptomes. In silico cross-tissue DE-analysis allowed us to identify 271 shared differentially expressed genes between EO and SM in C. compressirostris and C.tshokwe. Many of these genes correspond to myogenic factors, ion channels and pumps, and genes involved in several metabolic pathways. Cross-species analysis has revealed that the electric organ transcriptome is more variable in terms of gene expression levels across species than the skeletal muscle transcriptome. CONCLUSIONS: The data obtained indicate that: i) the loss of contractile activity and the decoupling of the excitation-contraction processes are reflected by the down-regulation of the corresponding genes in the electric organ's transcriptome; ii) the metabolic activity of the EO might be specialized towards the production and turn-over of membrane structures; iii) several ion channels are highly expressed in the EO in order to increase excitability; iv) several myogenic factors might be down-regulated by transcription repressors in the EO.