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Cardiovascular system in larval zebrafish responds to developmental hypoxia in a family specific manner

Francisco B-G Moore, Michelle Hosey and Brian Bagatto*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, USA

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Frontiers in Zoology 2006, 3:4  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-3-4

Published: 15 March 2006



Genetic and environmental variation are both known to influence development. Evolution of a developmental response that is optimized to the environment (adaptive plasticity) requires the existence of genetic variation for that developmental response. In complex traits composed of integrated sets of subsidiary traits, the adaptive process may be slowed by the existence of multiple possible integrated responses. This study tests for family (sibship) specific differences in plastic response to hypoxia in an integrated set of cardiovascular traits in zebrafish.


Cardiac output, which is the integrated product of several subsidiary traits, varied highly significantly between families, and families differed significantly in the degree and direction of response to developmental oxygen level. The cardiac output response to oxygen environment was entirely family specific with no significant overall trend due to oxygen level. Constituent physiological variables that contribute to cardiac output all showed significant family specific response to hypoxia. Traits that were not directly related to cardiac output, such as arterial and venous diameter, and red blood cell velocities did not respond to hypoxia in a family specific manner.


Zebrafish families vary in their plastic response to hypoxia. Genetic variation in plastic response to hypoxia may therefore provide the basic ingredient for adaptation to a variable environment. Considerable variation in the degree of familial response to hypoxia exists between different cardiovascular traits that may contribute to cardiac output. It is possible that the integration of several subsidiary traits into cardiac output allows the maintenance of genetic variance in cardiac response.