Contrasting effects of acute and chronic stress on the transcriptome, epigenome, and immune response of Atlantic salmon

Tamsyn M. Uren Webster, Deiene Rodriguez-Barreto, Samuel A. M. Martin, Cock van Oosterhout, Pablo Orozco-terWengel, Joanne Cable, Alastair Hamilton, Carlos Garcia De Leaniz, Sofia Consuegra

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Stress experienced during early life may have lasting effects on the immune system, with impacts on health and disease dependent on the nature and duration of the stressor. The epigenome is especially sensitive to environmental stimuli during early life and represents a potential mechanism through which stress may cause long-lasting health effects. However, the extent to which the epigenome responds differently to chronic vs acute stressors is unclear, especially for non-mammalian species. We examined the effects of acute stress (cold-shock during embryogenesis) and chronic stress (absence of tank enrichment during larval-stage) on global gene expression (using RNA-seq) and DNA methylation (using RRBS) in the gills of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) four months after hatching. Chronic stress induced pronounced transcriptional differences, while acute stress caused few lasting transcriptional effects. However, both acute and chronic stress caused lasting and contrasting changes in the methylome. Crucially, we found that acute stress enhanced transcriptional immune response to a pathogenic challenge (bacterial lipopolysaccharide, LPS), while chronic stress suppressed it. We identified stress-induced changes in promoter and gene-body methylation that were associated with altered expression for a small proportion of immune-related genes, and evidence of wider epigenetic regulation within signalling pathways involved in immune response. Our results suggest that stress can affect immuno-competence through epigenetic mechanisms, and highlight the markedly different effects of chronic larval and acute embryonic stress. This knowledge could be used to harness the stimulatory effects of acute stress on immunity, paving the way for improved stress and disease management through epigenetic conditioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1191-1207
Number of pages17
Issue number12
Early online date13 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • aquaculture
  • DNA methylation
  • early life
  • immune response
  • pathogen
  • rna-seq
  • RRBS
  • stress
  • transcriptomics

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