The abundance, distribution and oxidative capacities of mitochondria have been investigated in the red pectoral fin adductor muscles of fish (Order Perciformes) that use a predominantly labriform style of swimming. Mediterranean Sea species from the families Labridae, Serranidae, Sparidae and Antarctic Nototheniidae and non-Antarctic Nototheniidae and Channichthyidae were studied. Sub-Antarctic species from the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, included the pelagic haemoglobin-less icefish (Champsocephalus esox) and the robalo (Eleginops maclovinus), which occurs as far north as 35 degrees S. In Champsocephalus esox, the mitochondrial volume density of red muscle was 0.51 and mitochondrial cristae surface density (43. 9 microm2 microm-3) was higher than reported for Antarctic icefishes. In the red-blooded, active pelagic or semi-pelagic species, mitochondrial volume density was within the range 0.27-0.33 regardless of habitat temperature. Amongst less active demersal species, mitochondrial volume density ranged from 0.29-0.33 in polar species to 0.08-0.13 in Mediterranean species. In Antarctic species and Champsocephalus esox, myofibrils occurred in ribbons or clusters one fibril thick entirely surrounded by mitochondria. The volume density of intracellular lipid droplets was not correlated with activity patterns or habitat temperature. In a comparison of Eleginops maclovinus caught in summer (approximately 10 degrees C) and winter (approximately 4 degrees C), mitochondrial volume density did not differ, whereas the surface density of mitochondrial clusters was higher in summer fish. The temperature-dependence of the state 3 respiration rate of isolated mitochondria with pyruvate as substrate was described by a single quadratic relationship for all species, indicating no significant up-regulation of the maximum rate of oxygen uptake per milligram mitochondrial protein in Antarctic species. Our results support the conclusion that increasing the volume and surface density of mitochondrial clusters is the primary mechanism for enhancing the aerobic capacity of muscle in cold-water fish.

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