Hypoxia, mainly caused by eutrophication, is a common and growing problem on marine soft bottoms. Echinoderms are known for their ability to regenerate tissue after wounding but hypoxia has a negative influence on regeneration and also on reproduction in echinoderms. We have investigated the cellular and molecular responses to wounding stress and hypoxia in the sea star Asterias rubens by using the total coelomocyte count (TCC) and the expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs). As early as 1 h after wounding, sea stars under hypoxic conditions show significantly increased TCC and, after 6 h, cell numbers increase approximately two-fold. After a 3-h hypoxia exposure of wounded animals, Western blot analysis reveals highly elevated coelomocyte cytoplasmic HSP70 expression. Non-wounded sea stars exposed to hypoxia and wounded animals kept in normoxia show enhanced HSP70 expression only after 24 h. Immunocytochemical analysis has not demonstrated any translocation of HSP70 from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. We conclude that both wounding and hypoxia elicit a stress response in sea stars and that the combined stress produces synergistic effects that may inhibit the initial processes of wound healing and regeneration.
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