Protein changes as robust signatures of fish chronic stress: A proteomics approach to fish welfare research

Cláudia Raposo De Magalhães, Denise Schrama, Ana Paula Farinha, Dominique Revets, Annette Kuehn, Sébastien Planchon, Pedro Miguel Rodrigues, Marco Cerqueira*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Aquaculture is a fast-growing industry and therefore welfare and environmental impact have become of utmost importance. Preventing stress associated to common aquaculture practices and optimizing the fish stress response by quantification of the stress level, are important steps towards the improvement of welfare standards. Stress is characterized by a cascade of physiological responses that, in-turn, induce further changes at the whole-animal level. These can either increase fitness or impair welfare. Nevertheless, monitorization of this dynamic process has, up until now, relied on indicators that are only a snapshot of the stress level experienced. Promising technological tools, such as proteomics, allow an unbiased approach for the discovery of potential biomarkers for stress monitoring. Within this scope, using Gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) as a model, three chronic stress conditions, namely overcrowding, handling and hypoxia, were employed to evaluate the potential of the fish protein-based adaptations as reliable signatures of chronic stress, in contrast with the commonly used hormonal and metabolic indicators. Results: A broad spectrum of biological variation regarding cortisol and glucose levels was observed, the values of which rose higher in net-handled fish. In this sense, a potential pattern of stressor-specificity was clear, as the level of response varied markedly between a persistent (crowding) and a repetitive stressor (handling). Gel-based proteomics analysis of the plasma proteome also revealed that net-handled fish had the highest number of differential proteins, compared to the other trials. Mass spectrometric analysis, followed by gene ontology enrichment and protein-protein interaction analyses, characterized those as humoral components of the innate immune system and key elements of the response to stimulus. Conclusions: Overall, this study represents the first screening of more reliable signatures of physiological adaptation to chronic stress in fish, allowing the future development of novel biomarker models to monitor fish welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Article number309
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2020


  • Aquaculture
  • Biomarkers
  • Cortisol
  • Glucose
  • Mass-spectrometry
  • Proteome


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