Physiological and environmental stressors can cause osmotic stress in fish hearts, leading to a reduction in intracellular taurine concentration. Taurine is a β-amino acid known to regulate cardiac function in other animal models but its role in fish has not been well characterized. We generated a model of cardiac taurine deficiency (TD) by feeding brook char (Salvelinus fontinalis) a diet enriched in β-alanine, which inhibits cardiomyocyte taurine uptake. Cardiac taurine levels were reduced by 21% and stress-induced changes in normal taurine handling were observed in TD brook char. Responses to exhaustive exercise and acute thermal and hypoxia tolerance were then assessed using a combination of in vivo, in vitro and biochemical approaches. Critical thermal maximum was higher in TD brook char despite significant reductions in maximum heart rate. In vivo, TD brook char exhibited a lower resting heart rate, blunted hypoxic bradycardia and a severe reduction in time to loss of equilibrium under hypoxia. In vitro function was similar between control and TD hearts under oxygenated conditions, but stroke volume and cardiac output were severely compromised in TD hearts under severe hypoxia. Aspects of mitochondrial structure and function were also impacted in TD permeabilized cardiomyocytes, but overall effects were modest. High levels of intracellular taurine are required to achieve maximum cardiac function in brook char and cardiac taurine efflux may be necessary to support heart function under stress. Taurine appears to play a vital, previously unrecognized role in supporting cardiovascular function and stress tolerance in fish.

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