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The Effect of Stress on Zebrafish Lactase Expression

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Title: The Effect of Stress on Zebrafish Lactase Expression
Author(s): Sokka, Laura
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine
Degree program: Master's Programme in Translational Medicine
Specialisation: Neuroscience and psychobiology
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
Lactase is a digestive enzyme, and its principal function is to break down lactose, a disaccharide found in milk. The main site for lactase expression is the intestines, however, it is also expressed in other tissues, including the brain. Because the primary substrate, lactose, is not present in the central nervous system, it can be assumed that lactase serves another function besides lactose breakdown outside the digestive system. In C57BL/6NCrl mice, lactase expression is higher in the ventral hippocampus after chronic social defeat stress in comparison to controls. This suggests that lactase expression is to some extent affected by stress. Although lactose metabolism is only necessary for mammals, some other animals – including the zebrafish (Danio rerio) – possess a gene that codes for lactase. Research on the zebrafish lactase gene is scarce, and the expression pattern of its two transcripts, the primary lct-201 and the secondary lct-202, is not known. This study focused on measuring lactase expression in adult wild type zebrafish – both on the gene and on the protein level as enzymatic activity. The effect of stress on lactase expression was also examined by applying two different stress models: netting handling stress as a form of physiological stress, and chronic social defeat as a model for psychosocial stress. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (q-RT-PCR) showed lct-201 expression in all five tissues investigated in this study – the forebrain, the mid-hindbrain, higher intestines, lower intestines, and skeletal muscle, whereas lct-202 was only expressed in the higher and lower intestines. The expression level of lct-201 in the muscle was only fifth of that in the lower intestines. Lactase activity assay on the whole brain and whole intestines displayed enzymatic activity in both tissues, with the activity in the intestines being more than seven-fold compared to the brain. q-RT-PCR on both stressed and control fish whole brain and intestines revealed higher lactase expression in the stressed fish intestines, however, the effect was only seen with a primer pair targeting both transcripts simultaneously, and not for either of them separately. Lactase expression was on average approximately 40 % higher in physiologically and 55 % higher in psychosocially stressed fish in comparison to their respective controls. Neither physiological nor psychosocial stress affected lactase expression in the brain. These findings suggest that the two zebrafish lactase transcripts have distinct expression patterns, which might imply different functional roles for lct-201 and lct-202. Furthermore, these results indicate that lactase is expressed in the zebrafish brain, suggesting that it has a specific function in the central nervous system. Based on the findings in this study, lactase gene expression might be connected to experienced stress – both physiological and psychosocial.

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