Evidence for late Pleistocene origin of Astyanax mexicanus cavefish.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:Cavefish populations belonging to the Mexican tetra species Astyanax mexicanus are outstanding models to study the tempo and mode of adaptation to a radical environmental change. They are currently assigned to two main groups, the so-called "old" and "new" lineages, which would have populated several caves independently and at different times. However, we do not have yet accurate estimations of the time frames of evolution of these populations. RESULTS:We reanalyzed the geographic distribution of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA polymorphisms and we found that these data do not support the existence of two cavefish lineages. Using IMa2, a program that allows dating population divergence in addition to demographic parameters, we found that microsatellite polymorphism strongly supports a very recent origin of cave populations (
Project description:The Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus, comprises 29 populations of cave-adapted fish distributed across a vast karst region in northeastern Mexico. These populations have a complex evolutionary history, having descended from 'old' and 'young' ancestral surface-dwelling stocks that invaded the region ∼6.7 and ∼2.8 MYa, respectively. This study investigates a set of captive, pigmented Astyanax cavefish collected from the Micos cave locality in 1970, in which albinism appeared over the past two decades. We combined novel coloration analyses, coding sequence comparisons and mRNA expression level studies to investigate the origin of albinism in captive-bred Micos cavefish. We discovered that albino Micos cavefish harbor two copies of a loss-of-function ocular and cutaneous albinism type II (Oca2) allele previously identified in the geographically distant Pachón cave population. This result suggests that phylogenetically young Micos cavefish and phylogenetically old Pachón cave fish inherited this Oca2 allele from the ancestral surface-dwelling taxon. This likely resulted from the presence of the loss-of-function Oca2 haplotype in the 'young' ancestral surface-dwelling stock that colonized the Micos cave and also introgressed into the ancient Pachón cave population. The appearance of albinism in captive Micos cavefish, caused by the same loss-of-function allele present in Pachón cavefish, implies that geographically and phylogenetically distinct cave populations can evolve the same troglomorphic phenotype from standing genetic variation present in the ancestral taxon.
Project description:We found higher substitution rates in cavefish compared with surface fish, in accordance with a smaller cavefish population size which has allowed more rapid fixation of derived alleles present in the ancestral population. This result also implies that the Pachn cave population is much younger than previously estimated. The comparison of these data with simulations suggests that the Pachn cavefish population has probably been underground less than 30,000 years. This new time frame, together with other evidence, indicate that the evolution of cave phenotypes mainly involves the fixation of cryptic genetic variants present in surface fish populations within a short period of time.
Project description:Despite recent advances in the understanding of morphological evolution, the genetic underpinnings of behavioral and physiological evolution remain largely unknown. Here, we study the metabolic changes that evolved in independently derived populations of the Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus. A hallmark of cave environments is scarcity of food. Cavefish populations rely almost entirely on sporadic food input from outside of the caves. To survive under these conditions, cavefish have evolved a range of adaptations, including starvation resistance and binge eating when food becomes available. The use of these adaptive strategies differs among independently derived cave populations. Although all cavefish populations tested lose weight more slowly than their surface conspecifics during restricted rations, only a subset of cavefish populations consume more food than their surface counterparts. A candidate gene-based screen led to the identification of coding mutations in conserved residues of the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) gene, contributing to the insatiable appetite found in some populations of cavefish. Intriguingly, one of the mutated residues has been shown to be linked to obesity in humans. We demonstrate that the allele results in both reduced maximal response and reduced basal activity of the receptor in vitro. We further validate in vivo that the mutated allele contributes to elevated appetite, growth, and starvation resistance. The allele appears to be fixed in cave populations in which the overeating phenotype is present. The presence of the same allele in multiple caves appears to be due to selection from standing genetic variation present in surface populations.
Project description:Diverse changes in coloration across distant taxa are mediated through alterations in certain highly conserved pigmentation genes. Among these genes, Mc1r is a frequent target for mutation, and many documented alterations involve coding sequence changes. We investigated whether regulatory mutations in Mc1r may also contribute to pigmentation loss in the blind Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus. This species comprises multiple independent cave populations that have evolved reduced (or absent) melanic pigmentation as a consequence of living in darkness for millions of generations. Among the most salient cave-associated traits, complete absence (albinism) or reduced levels of pigmentation (brown) have long been the focus of degenerative pigmentation research in Astyanax. These two Mendelian traits have been linked to specific coding mutations in Oca2 (albinism) and Mc1r (brown). However, four of the seven caves harboring the brown phenotype exhibit unaffected coding sequences compared to surface fish. Thus, diverse genetic changes involving the same genes likely impact reduced pigmentation among cavefish populations. Using both sequence and expression analyses, we show that certain cave-dwelling populations harboring the brown mutation have substantial alterations to the putative Mc1r cis-regulatory region. Several of these sequence mutations in the Mc1r 5' region were present across multiple, independent cave populations. This study suggests that pigmentation reduction in Astyanax cavefish evolves through a combination of both coding and cis-regulatory mutations. Moreover, this study represents one of the first attempts to identify regulatory alterations linked to regressive changes in cave-dwelling populations of A. mexicanus.
Project description:Distinct populations of Astyanax mexicanus cavefish offer striking examples of repeatable convergence or parallelism in their independent evolutions from surface to cave phenotypes. However, the extent to which the repeatability of evolution occurred at the genetic level remains poorly understood. To address this, we first characterized the genetic diversity of 518 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), obtained through RAD tag sequencing and distributed throughout the genome, in seven cave and three groups of surface populations. The cave populations represented two distinct lineages (old and new). Thirty-one SNPs were significantly differentiated between surface and old cave populations, two SNPs were differentiated between surface and new cave populations, and 44 SNPs were significantly differentiated in both old and new cave populations. In addition, we determined whether these SNPs map to the same locations of previously described quantitative trait loci (QTL) between surface and cave populations. A total of 25 differentiated SNPs co-map with several QTL, such as one containing a fibroblast growth factor gene (Fgf8) involved in eye development and lens size. Further, the identity of many SNPs that co-mapped with QTL was the same in independently derived cave populations. These conclusions were further confirmed by haplotype analyses of SNPs within QTL regions. Our findings indicate that the repeatability of evolution at the genetic level is substantial, suggesting that ancestral standing genetic variation significantly contributed to the population genetic variability used in adaptation to the cave environment.
Project description:Epigenetic parental genetic effects are important in many biological processes but their roles in the evolution of adaptive traits and their consequences in naturally evolving populations remain to be addressed. By comparing two divergent blind cave-dwelling cavefish populations with a sighted surface-dwelling population (surface fish) of the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, we report here that convergences in vibration attraction behavior (VAB), the lateral line sensory receptors underlying this behavior, and the feeding benefits of this behavior are controlled by parental genetic effects, either maternal or paternal inheritance. From behavioral studies and mathematical evolutionary simulations, we further demonstrate that disparity in nuclear and mitochondrial DNA in one of these cavefish populations that has hybridized with surface fish can be explained by paternal inheritance of VAB. The results suggest that parental genetic effects in adaptive behaviors may be important factors in biasing mitochondrial DNA inheritance in natural populations that are subject to introgression.
Project description:Organisms that are isolated into extreme environments often evolve extreme phenotypes. However, global patterns of dynamic gene expression changes that accompany dramatic environmental changes remain largely unknown. The blind Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, has evolved a number of severe cave-associated phenotypes including loss of vision and pigmentation, craniofacial bone fusions, increased fat storage, reduced sleep, and amplified nonvisual sensory systems. Interestingly, surface-dwelling forms have repeatedly entered different caves throughout Mexico, providing a natural set of "replicate" instances of cave isolation. These surrogate "ancestral" surface-dwelling forms persist in nearby rivers, enabling direct comparisons to the "derived" cave-dwelling form. We evaluated changes associated with subterranean isolation by measuring differential gene expression in two geographically distinct cave-dwelling populations (Pachón and Tinaja). To understand the impact of these expression changes on development, we performed RNA-sequencing across four critical stages during which troglomorphic traits first appear in cavefish embryos. Gene ontology (GO) studies revealed similar functional profiles evolved in both independent cave lineages. However, enrichment studies indicated that similar GO profiles were occasionally mediated by different genes. Certain "master" regulators, such as Otx2 and Mitf, appear to be important loci for cave adaptation, as remarkably similar patterns of expression were identified in both independent cave lineages. This work reveals that adaptation to an extreme environment, in two distinct cavefish lineages, evolves through a combination of unique and shared gene expression patterns. Shared expression profiles reflect common environmental pressures, while unique expression likely reflects the fact that similar adaptive traits evolve through diverse genetic mechanisms.
Project description:The duration of sleep varies dramatically between species, yet little is known about the genetic basis or evolutionary factors driving this variation in behavior. The Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, exists as surface populations that inhabit rivers, and multiple cave populations with convergent evolution on sleep loss. The number of Hypocretin/Orexin (HCRT)-positive hypothalamic neurons is increased significantly in cavefish, and HCRT is upregulated at both the transcript and protein levels. Pharmacological or genetic inhibition of HCRT signaling increases sleep in cavefish, suggesting enhanced HCRT signaling underlies the evolution of sleep loss. Ablation of the lateral line or starvation, manipulations that selectively promote sleep in cavefish, inhibit hcrt expression in cavefish while having little effect on surface fish. These findings provide the first evidence of genetic and neuronal changes that contribute to the evolution of sleep loss, and support a conserved role for HCRT in sleep regulation.
Project description:As a consequence of adaptation to the cave environment, the blind Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, has evolved several cranial aberrations including changes to bone sizes, shapes and presence of numerous lateral asymmetries. Prior studies of cranial asymmetry in cavefish focused strictly on adult specimens. Thus, the extent to which these asymmetries emerge in adulthood, or earlier in the life history of cavefish, was unknown. We performed a geometric morphometric analysis of shape variation in the chondrocranium and osteocranium across life history in two distinct cavefish populations and surface-dwelling fish. The cartilaginous skull in juveniles was bilaterally symmetric and chondrocranial shape was conserved in all three populations. In contrast, bony skull shapes segregated into significantly distinct groups in adults. Cavefish demonstrated significant asymmetry for the bones surrounding the collapsed eye orbit, and the opercle bone posterior to the eye orbit. Interestingly, we discovered that cavefish also exhibit directional "bends" in skull shape, almost always biased to the left. In sum, this work reveals that asymmetric craniofacial aberrations emerge later in the cavefish life history. These abnormalities may mirror asymmetries in the lateral line sensory system, reflect a 'handedness' in cavefish swimming behavior, or evolve through neutral processes.
Project description:Periodic food shortages are a major challenge faced by organisms in natural habitats. Cave-dwelling animals must withstand long periods of nutrient deprivation, as-in the absence of photosynthesis-caves depend on external energy sources such as seasonal floods. Here we show that cave-adapted populations of the Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus, have dysregulated blood glucose homeostasis and are insulin-resistant compared to river-adapted populations. We found that multiple cave populations carry a mutation in the insulin receptor that leads to decreased insulin binding in vitro and contributes to hyperglycaemia. Hybrid fish from surface-cave crosses carrying this mutation weigh more than non-carriers, and zebrafish genetically engineered to carry the mutation have increased body weight and insulin resistance. Higher body weight may be advantageous in caves as a strategy to cope with an infrequent food supply. In humans, the identical mutation in the insulin receptor leads to a severe form of insulin resistance and reduced lifespan. However, cavefish have a similar lifespan to surface fish and do not accumulate the advanced glycation end-products in the blood that are typically associated with the progression of diabetes-associated pathologies. Our findings suggest that diminished insulin signalling is beneficial in a nutrient-limited environment and that cavefish may have acquired compensatory mechanisms that enable them to circumvent the typical negative effects associated with failure to regulate blood glucose levels.