The aquatic environment can be greatly impacted by thermal and hypoxic stresses, particularly caused by intensified global warming. Hence, there is an urgency to understand the response mechanisms of marine organisms to adverse environment. Although long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are involved in many biological processes, their roles in stress responses still remain unclear. Here, differentially expressed (DE) lncRNAs and mRNAs were identified as responses to environmental stresses in the economically important sea cucumber, Apostichopus japonicus, and their potential roles were explored. Based on a total of 159, 355 and 495 significantly upregulated genes and 230, 518 and 647 significantly downregulated genes identified in the thermal, hypoxic and combination thermal + hypoxic stress treatments, respectively, we constructed DE-lncRNA-mRNA coexpression networks. Among the networks, eight shared pairs were identified from the three treatments, and based on the connectivity degree, MSTRG.27265, MSTRG.19729 and MSTRG.95524 were shown to be crucial lncRNAs. Among all the significantly changed lncRNAs identified by RT-qPCR and sequencing data, binding sites were found in four other lncRNAs (MSTRG.34610, MSTRG.10941, MSTRG.81281 and MSTRG.93731) with Aja-miR-2013-3p, a key miRNA that responds to hypoxia in sea cucumbers. The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1α) was also shown as the possible targeted mRNA of Aja-miR-2013-3p. As indicated by a dual-luciferase reporter assay system, “HIF-1α gene/Aja-miR-2013-3p/MSTRG.34610” network and the “HIF-1α gene/Aja-miR-2013-3p/MSTRG.10941” network may play important roles in sea cucumbers under environmental stresses. Moreover, environmental stress altered the expression of multiple lncRNAs and mRNAs, thus affecting various biological processes in A. japonicus, including immunity, energy metabolism and the cell cycle. At the molecular level, more comprehensive responses were elicited by the combined thermal/hypoxic stress treatment than by individual stresses alone in sea cucumbers. This study lays the groundwork for future research on molecular mechanisms of echinoderm responses to thermal and hypoxic stress in the context of global climate changes.

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Science of the Total Environment
Department of Biology

Huo, D. (Da), Sun, L. (Lina), Storey, K, Zhang, L. (Libin), Liu, S. (Shilin), Sun, J. (Jingchun), & Yang, H. (Hongsheng). (2020). The regulation mechanism of lncRNAs and mRNAs in sea cucumbers under global climate changes: Defense against thermal and hypoxic stresses. Science of the Total Environment, 709. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136045