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African lungfishes are ammonotelic in water. They can aestivate for long periods on land during drought. During aestivation, the gills are covered with dried mucus and ammonia excretion ceases. In fishes, ammonia excretion through the gills involves Rhesus glycoproteins (RhGP/Rhgp). This study aimed to obtain the complete cDNA coding sequences of rhgp from the gills of Protopterus annectens, and to determine their branchial mRNA and protein expression levels during the induction, maintenance and arousal phases of aestivation. Three isoforms of rhgp (rhag, rhbg and rhcg) were obtained in the gills of P. annectens. Their complete cDNA coding sequences ranged between 1311 and 1398 bp, coding for 436 to 465 amino acids with estimated molecular masses between 46.8 and 50.9 kDa. Dendrogramic analyses indicated that Rhag was grouped closer to fishes, while Rhbg and Rhcg were grouped closer to tetrapods. During the induction phase, the protein abundance of Rhag, but not its transcript level, was down-regulated in the gills, suggesting that there could be a decrease in the release of ammonia from the erythrocytes to the plasma. Furthermore, the branchial transcript levels of rhbg and rhcg decreased significantly, in preparation for the subsequent shutdown of gill functions. During the maintenance phase, the branchial expression levels of rhag/Rhag, rhbg/Rhbg and rhcg/Rhcg decreased significantly, indicating that their transcription and translation were down-regulated. This could be part of an overall mechanism to shut down branchial functions and save metabolic energy used for transcription and translation. It could also be regarded as an adaptive response to stop ammonia excretion. During the arousal phase, it is essential for the lungfish to regain the ability to excrete ammonia. Indeed, the protein abundance of Rhag, Rhbg and Rhcg recovered to the corresponding control levels after 1 day or 3 days of recovery from 6 months of aestivation.


You R Chng, Jasmine L Y Ong, Biyun Ching, Xiu L Chen, Kum C Hiong, Wai P Wong, Shit F Chew, Siew H Lam, Yuen K Ip. Molecular characterization of three Rhesus glycoproteins from the gills of the African lungfish, Protopterus annectens, and effects of aestivation on their mRNA expression levels and protein abundance. PloS one. 2017;12(10):e0185814

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PMID: 29073147

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