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Vertebrate preferential intracellular pH regulation during severe acute hypercarbia Shartau, Ryan Brady


Environmental CO2 tensions reach >8 kPa (ca. 79,000 μatm; hypercarbia) in some habitats and create severe acid-base challenges for vertebrates. Typically, during a hypercarbic-induced respiratory acidosis, changes in blood pH are compensated for, which returns pH to its normal value, and this is coupled to tissue pH (pHi) regulation. However, during acute environmental CO₂ exposure, this process may be limited to <2 kPa PCO₂. Some fishes fully protect tissue pH (pHi) (preferential pHi regulation) despite large sustained reductions of pHe (>1 pH unit) and can tolerate PCO₂ >3 kPa. I hypothesized that preferential pHi regulation is used by adult fishes and embryonic amniotes during severe acute acid-base disturbances. This was investigated by examining (1) whether preferential pHi regulation is a general response to various types of acid-base disturbances, (2) surveying fishes for the presence or absence of preferential pHi regulation, and (3) whether preferential pHi regulation is used during development in reptiles. Using white sturgeon, I found that preferential pHi regulation is not a general response to both respiratory and metabolic acidoses. Despite a robust capacity for preferential pHi regulation during respiratory acidoses, not all tissues were protected during metabolic acidoses to the same degree. Preferential pHi regulation was observed to be a common pattern of acid-base regulation amongst fishes in response to severe acute hypercarbia. A total of 20 species, ranging from basal (“primitive”) to derived, were examined and 18 were observed to use preferential pHi regulation. Finally, developing amniotes (snapping turtle and American alligator) used preferential pHi regulation during severe acute respiratory acidosis, but the capacity for pHi regulation was progressively reduced throughout development. This thesis demonstrates that preferential pHi regulation is likely a common strategy of acid-base regulation occurring in response to severe acute hypercarbia in adult fishes and possibly amniotes. I propose that preferential pHi regulation is an embryonic vertebrate strategy, that has been retained or lost in adults depending on the environmental acid-base challenges they face.

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