Recent studies suggest that controlled apoptotic response provides an essential mechanism, enabling corals to respond to global warming and ocean acidification. However, the molecules involved and their functions are still unclear. To better characterize the apoptotic response in basal metazoans, we studied the expression profiles of selected genes that encode for putative pro-and anti-apoptotic mediators in the coral Stylophora pistillata under thermal stress and bleaching conditions. Upon thermal stress, as attested by the elevation of the heat-shock protein gene HSP70's mRNA levels, the expression of all studied genes, including caspase, Bcl-2, Bax, APAF-1 and BI-1, peaked at 6-24 h of thermal stress (hts) and declined at 72 hts. Adversely, the expression levels of the survivin gene showed a shifted pattern, with elevation at 48-72 hts and a return to basal levels at 168 hts. Overall, we show the quantitative anti-apoptotic traits of the coral Bcl-2 protein, which resemble those of its mammalian counterpart. Altogether, our results highlight the similarities between apoptotic networks operating in simple metazoans and in higher animals and clearly demonstrate the activation of pro-cell survival regulators at early stages of the apoptotic response, contributing to the decline of apoptosis and the acclimation to chronic stress.
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