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Olfaction mediates behaviors necessary for survival and reproduction in fishes. Anthropogenic inputs of contaminants into aquatic environments, specifically copper, are known to disrupt a broad range of olfactory-mediated behaviors and can cause long-lasting damage even at low concentrations that have profound impacts on the biology of aquatic organisms. The sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) is a primitive fish species invasive to the North American Great Lakes that relies on olfaction to navigate during natal homing and in mate choice during reproduction. To investigate effects of copper on sea lamprey olfaction and the potential for maintenance of olfactory function during copper exposure, we exposed juvenile sea lamprey to environmentally ecologically relevant copper concentrations (0, 5, 10 and 30 mg/L) for 24 hr and characterized gene transcription response in olfactory tissue (i.e., peripheral olfactory organ and olfactory bulb) and forebrain using whole transcriptome sequencing. Copper exposure induced a pattern of positive dose-dependent transcriptional response. Expression changes primarily reflected up-regulation of genes involved in apoptosis and wound healing. Unlike higher vertebrates, genes specifically related to the olfactory senses of the sea lamprey, e.g., olfactory receptors, exhibited little transcriptional response to copper exposure, suggesting the mechanism of copper-induced olfactory impairment is through necrosis of the olfactory bulb and not copper-selective inhibition of olfactory receptors. Fully two-thirds of the differentially expressed genes at higher doses of copper have no known function and thus represent important candidates for further study of the responses to copper-induced olfactory injury. Our results shed light on the evolution of vertebrate olfactory repair mechanisms and have important implications for the conservation and management of both invasive and native populations of lamprey.



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