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Biochemistry

Frigid waters no match for salmon muscle

A single amino acid swap boosts cold tolerance in Atlantic salmon

by Emma Hiolski, special to C&EN
August 17, 2020

 

20200817lnp2-salmon.jpg
Credit: Marek Rybar/Shutterstock
The tail muscles of Atlantic salmon contain a variant of the tropomyosin protein that keeps the fishes’ muscles functioning in frigid waters.

As temperatures drop, proteins tend to become more rigid. Not so for the muscles of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).

New research shows that the tail muscles of these powerful fish maintain flexibility at temperatures below 10 °C, thanks to a tiny tweak in tropomyosin, a protein involved with muscle contraction. The salmon, who regularly experience temperatures below this threshold in the North Atlantic Ocean, owe this trick to a single amino acid difference compared with the tropomyosin found in mammals (Biochemistry 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acs.biochem.0c00416).

20200817lnp2-lysine.jpg
Credit: Biochemistry
In the mammalian form of tropomyosin (shown), electrostatic interactions between lysine-77 and two negatively charged amino acids (aspartic acid and glutamic acid) in the protein are diminished at cold temperatures. A single amino acid substitution at this position in salmon tropomyosin grants the protein needed flexibility in the frigid North Atlantic.

For muscles to contract properly, tropomyosin must maintain conformational flexibility and the ability to interact with other muscle proteins, says David H. Heeley, a biochemist at Memorial University who helmed the study. Mammalian forms of tropomyosin become rigid and less able to bind their target as the temperature drops.

The salmon protein, Tpm1 (α-fast), turns the tide. Replacing positively charged lysine with neutral threonine at position 77 disrupts some electrostatic interactions within tropomyosin, destabilizing the protein. At a mammal’s body temperature, this variant would lose stability and function. But in salmon, the destabilization grants the protein just enough molecular flexibility to prevent cold-induced rigidity, allowing the fish to surge through the frigid Atlantic waters.

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Comments
Robert Losey (August 18, 2020 3:30 PM)
Has production or indication of this tropomyosin been found in Humans? a possible connection in Muscular Dystrophy and/or other Muscle Control Diseases?
H Fei (August 19, 2020 9:27 PM)
what happens if the fish was placed in warm water.
David Heeley (October 20, 2020 10:50 AM)
Dear H. Fei,

Most likely, the fish would suffocate. An unfortunate example happened a year ago in a hatchery when unseasonably warm waters, containing less oxygen, caused a mass die off.

Thank you for the enquiry.

Dave Heeley

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