Seasonal modifications in the structure of cellular membranes occur as an adaptive measure to withstand exposure to prolonged environmental change. Little is known about whether such changes occur independently of external cues, such as photoperiod or temperature, or how they may impact the central nervous system. We compared membrane properties of neurons isolated from the retina of goldfish (Carassius auratus), an organism well adapted to extreme environmental change, during the summer and winter months. Goldfish were maintained in a facility under constant environmental conditions throughout the year. Analysis of whole-retina phospholipid composition using mass spectrometry-based lipidomics revealed a twofold increase in phosphatidylethanolamine species during the winter, suggesting an increase in cell membrane fluidity. Atomic force microscopy was used to produce localized, nanoscale-force deformation of neuronal membranes. Measurement of Young's modulus indicated increased membrane–cortical stiffness (or decreased elasticity) in neurons isolated during the winter. Voltage-clamp electrophysiology was used to assess physiological changes in neurons between seasons. Winter neurons displayed a hyperpolarized reversal potential (Vrev) and a significantly lower input resistance (Rin) compared with summer neurons. This was indicative of a decrease in membrane excitability during the winter. Subsequent measurement of intracellular Ca2+ activity using Fura-2 microspectrofluorometry confirmed a reduction in action potential activity, including duration and action potential profile, in neurons isolated during the winter. These studies demonstrate chemical and biophysical changes that occur in retinal neurons of goldfish throughout the year without exposure to seasonal cues, and suggest a novel mechanism of seasonal regulation of retinal activity.

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