Acidification of freshwater ecosystems is recognized as a global environmental problem. However, the influence of acidic water on the early stages of freshwater fish is still unclear. This study focused on the sublethal effects of acidic water on the lateral line system of zebrafish embryos. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to water at different pH values (pH 4, 5, 7, 9, and 10) for 96 (0–96 h post-fertilization (hpf)) and 48 h (48∼96 hpf). The survival rate, body length, and heart rate significantly decreased in pH 4-exposed embryos during the 96-h incubation. The number of lateral-line neuromasts and the size of otic vesicles/otoliths also decreased in pH 4-exposed embryos subjected to 96- and 48-h incubations. The number of neuromasts decreased in pH 5-exposed embryos during the 96-h incubation. Alkaline water (pH 9 and 10) did not influence embryonic development but suppressed the hatching process. The mechanotransducer channel-mediated Ca2+ influx was measured to reveal the function of lateral line hair cells. The Ca2+ influx of hair cells decreased in pH 5-exposed embryos subjected to the 48-h incubation, and both the number and Ca2+ influx of hair cells had decreased in pH 5-exposed embryos after 96 h of incubation. In addition, the number and function of hair cells were suppressed in H+-ATPase- or GCM2-knockdown embryos, which partially lost the ability to secrete acid into the ambient water. In conclusion, this study suggests that lateral line hair cells are sensitive to an acidic environment, and freshwater acidification could be a threat to the early stages of fishes.
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