Weddell and elephant seals are deep-diving mammals, which rely on lung collapse to limit nitrogen absorption and prevent decompression injury. Repeated collapse and re-expansion exposes the lungs to multiple stressors, including ischemia-reperfusion, alveolar shear stress and inflammation. There is no evidence, however, that diving damages pulmonary function in these species. To investigate potential protective strategies in deep-diving seals, we examined the inflammatory response of seal whole blood exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a potent endotoxin. Interleukin-6 (IL6) cytokine production elicited by LPS exposure was 50 to 500 times lower in blood of healthy northern elephant seals and Weddell seals compared with that of healthy human blood. In contrast to the ∼6× increased production of IL6 protein from LPS-exposed Weddell seal whole blood, isolated Weddell seal peripheral blood mononuclear cells, under standard cell culture conditions using medium supplemented with fetal bovine serum (FBS), produced a robust LPS response (∼300×). Induction of Il6 mRNA expression as well as production of IL6, IL8, IL10, KC-like and TNFα were reduced by substituting FBS with an equivalent amount of autologous seal serum. Weddell seal serum also attenuated the inflammatory response of RAW 267.4 mouse macrophage cells exposed to LPS. Cortisol level and the addition of serum lipids did not impact the cytokine response in cultured cells. These data suggest that seal serum possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which may protect deep divers from naturally occurring inflammatory challenges such as dive-induced hypoxia-reoxygenation and lung collapse.
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