Previous transcriptional studies in heat stressed corals have shown that many genes are responsive to generalized heat stress whereas the expression patterns of specific gene networks after heat stress show strong correlations with variation in bleaching outcomes. However, where these specific genes are expressed is unknown. Here we employed in situ hybridization to identify patterns of spatial gene expression of genes previously predicted to be involved in general stress response and bleaching. We found that Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptors (TNFRs), known to be strong responders to heat stress, were not expressed in gastrodermal symbiont-containing cells but were widely expressed in specific cells of the epidermal layer. The transcription factors AP-1 and FosB implicated as early signals of heat stress and were widely expressed throughout the oral gastrodermis and epidermis. By contrast, a G-protein coupled receptor gene (GPCR), and a fructose bisphosphate aldolase C gene (Aldolase), previously implicated in bleaching, was expressed in symbiont containing gastrodermal cells, and in epidermal tissue. Finally, Chordin-like/Kielin (Chordin-like) a gene highly correlated to bleaching was expressed solely in the oral gastrodermis. From this study we confirm that heat responsive genes occur widely in coral tissues outside of symbiont containing cells, and that gene expression in response to heat stress that causes bleaching does not signal by itself that a gene is expressed in the symbiotic cells where bleaching occurs. Joint information about expression patterns in response to heat and cell specificity will allow greater dissection of the regulatory pathways and specific cell reactions that lead to coral bleaching.

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