Transcriptomic Signatures of Experimental Alkaloid Consumption in a Poison Frog
In the anuran family Dendrobatidae, aposematic species obtain their toxic or unpalatable alkaloids from dietary sources, a process known as sequestering. To understand how toxicity evolved in this family, it is paramount to elucidate the pathways of alkaloid processing (absorption, metabolism, and sequestering). Here, we used an exploratory skin gene expression experiment in which captive-bred dendrobatids were fed alkaloids. Most of these experiments were performed with Dendrobates tinctorius, but some trials were performed with D. auratus, D. leucomelas and Allobates femoralis to explore whether other dendrobatids would show similar patterns of gene expression. We found a consistent pattern of up-regulation of genes related to muscle and mitochondrial processes, probably due to the lack of mutations related to alkaloid resistance in these species. Considering conserved pathways of drug metabolism in vertebrates, we hypothesize alkaloid degradation is a physiological mechanism of resistance, which was evidenced by a strong upregulation of the immune system in D. tinctorius, and of complement C2 across the four species sampled. Probably related to this strong immune response, we found several skin keratins downregulated, which might be linked to a reduction of the cornified layer of the epidermis. Although not conclusive, our results offer candidate genes and testable hypotheses to elucidate alkaloid processing in poison frogs.