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Annu Rev Physiol. 1992;54:557-77.

Adaptations to high hydrostatic pressure.

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  • 1Marine Biology Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0202.

Abstract

The importance of adaptation to high pressure has long been implicit in the findings of studies in which 1 atm-adapted species were subjected to elevated pressures. Recent comparative studies have shown that pressure sensitivities of enzymes, structural proteins, and membrane-based systems differ markedly between shallow- and deep-living species. These studies allow operational definition of what constitutes high pressures for different biological structures and processes. These are the habitat (adaptation) pressures at which a given type of system first exhibits reduced perturbation by pressure. These threshold pressures vary among physiological systems, but are similar for a given system among different species. Dehydrogenase enzymes and adenylyl cyclases exhibit threshold perturbation pressures of only 50-100 atm; the Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase of teleost gills appears to have a pressure perturbation threshold near 200 atm, and a similar threshold was found for actin self-assembly. Even this limited sample of physiological processes indicates that the terms deep and high pressure begin to apply at depths of only 500 m or less--and processes yet to be examined in comparative analysis may yield even lower pressure thresholds. The differences in sensitivity to pressure of homologous systems in shallow- and deep-living organisms have implications at several levels of biological organization. The vertical distribution patterns of species in aquatic habitats may be established, in part, by interspecific differences in resistance to pressure. High pressures may restrict the depths to which shallow-living species can penetrate, and the obligately barophilic systems found in deep-living organisms may limit their upper distribution limits. The similarities noted among the adaptations of deep-sea species with different shallow-water ancestors reflect a high degree of convergent evolution in pressure adaptation. It will be interesting to learn if the similarities in pressure-resistance of function among diverse deep-sea species are the result of similar or identical changes at the molecular level, e.g. in protein sequence. Acclimation to pressure may be of widespread occurrence among species that undergo large changes in depth, e.g. during ontogeny. Pressure acclimation may require pressure-regulation of gene expression. Lastly, comparisons of species from the cold deep sea with those from hydrothermal vents have shown that adaptations to both temperature and pressure play critical roles in determining the distribution patterns of deep-living species.

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