Apnea Stimulates the Adaptive Response to Oxidative Stress in Elephant Seal Pups

Extended breath-hold (apnea) bouts are routine during diving and sleeping in seals. These apneas result in oxygen store depletion and blood flow redistribution towards obligatory oxygen-dependent tissues, exposing seals to critical levels of ischemia and hypoxemia. The subsequent reperfusion/reoxygenation has the potential to increase oxidant production and thus oxidative stress. The contributions of extended apnea to oxidative stress in adapted mammals are not well defined. To address the hypothesis that apnea in seals is not associated with increased oxidative damage, blood samples were collected from northern elephant seal pups (N=6) during eupnea, rest- and voluntary submersion-associated apneas, and post-apnea (recovery). Plasma 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), 8-isoprostanes (8-isoPGF2a), nitrotyrosine (NT), protein carbonyls, xanthine and hypoxanthine (HX) levels, along with xanthine oxidase (XO) activity, were measured. Protein content of XO, superoxide dismutase 1 (Cu,ZnSOD), catalase and myoglobin (Mb), as well as the nuclear content of hypoxia inducible factor 1 (HIF-1 ) and NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), were measured in muscle biopsies collected before and after the breath-hold trials. HNE, 8-iso PGF2 , NT and protein carbonyl levels did not change among eupnea, apnea or recovery. XO activity and HX and xanthine concentrations were increased at the end of the apneas and during recovery. Muscle protein content of XO, CuZnSOD, catalase, Mb, HIF-1 and Nrf2 increased 25–70% after apnea. Results suggest that rather than inducing the damaging effects of hypoxemia and ischemia/reperfusion that have been reported in non-diving mammals, apnea in seals stimulates the oxidative stress and hypoxic hormetic responses, allowing these mammals to cope with the potentially detrimental effects associated with this condition.