No Evidence for Homeoviscous Adaptation in a Heterothermic Tissue: Tuna Heat Exchangers

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Many poikilotherms are known to adjust the membrane composition of their cells in response to a temperature change so that membrane fluidity, and therefore function, is conserved. Such compensatory changes in membrane composition are considered ‘‘homeoviscous adaptations.’’ In this study, we examined a heterothermic tissue, the visceral rete mirabile of the bluefin tuna, for evidence of homeoviscous adaptation. We measured the proportions of phospholipid fatty acids and phospholipid head groups as a function of position along the rete thermal gradient, which has been estimated to be ,10°C. We found no effect of position along the rete on the composition of either phospholipid fatty acids or head groups. Our results were unexpected in light of our previous demonstration of compensation of metabolic enzyme activity in the same tissue. The lack of evidence for a homeoviscous response may be due to the fluctuating nature of the thermal gradient along the visceral retia; i.e., membranes may be adapted to a eurythermal existence rather than being fine-tuned to a particular temperature.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Physiology, volume 275, in 1998.


American Physiological Society