Transcriptomic responses to darkness stress point to common coral bleaching mechanisms

M. K. DeSalvo, A. Estrada, S. Sunagawa, Mónica Medina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Coral bleaching occurs in response to numerous abiotic stressors, the ecologically most relevant of which is hyperthermic stress due to increasing seawater temperatures. Bleaching events can span large geographic areas and are currently a salient threat to coral reefs worldwide. Much effort has been focused on understanding the molecular and cellular events underlying bleaching, and these studies have mainly utilized heat and light stress regimes. In an effort to determine whether different stressors share common bleaching mechanisms, we used complementary DNA (cDNA) microarrays for the corals Acropora palmata and Montastraea faveolata (containing >10,000 features) to measure differential gene expression during darkness stress. Our results reveal a striking transcriptomic response to darkness in A. palmata involving chaperone and antioxidant up-regulation, growth arrest, and metabolic modifications. As these responses were previously measured during thermal stress, our results suggest that different stressors may share common bleaching mechanisms. Furthermore, our results point to hypoxia and endoplasmic reticulum stress as critical cellular events involved in molecular bleaching mechanisms. On the other hand, we identified a meager transcriptomic response to darkness in M. faveolata where gene expression differences between host colonies and sampling locations were greater than differences between control and stressed fragments. This and previous coral microarray studies reveal the immense range of transcriptomic responses that are possible when studying two coral species that differ greatly in their ecophysiology, thus pointing to the importance of comparative approaches in forecasting how corals will respond to future environmental change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-228
Number of pages14
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science


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