The species-rich, endemic amphipod fauna of Lake Baikal does not overlap with the common Palearctic fauna; however, the underlying mechanisms for this are poorly understood. Considering that Palearctic lakes have a higher relative input of natural organic compounds with a dominance of humic substances (HSs) than Lake Baikal, we addressed the question whether HSs are candidate factors that affect the different species compositions in these water bodies. We hypothesized that interspecies differences in stress defense might reveal that Baikalian amphipods are inferior to Palearctic amphipods in dealing with HS-mediated stress. In this study, two key mechanisms of general stress response were examined: heat-shock protein 70 (HSP70) and multixenobiotic resistance-associated transporters (ABCB1). The results of quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) showed that the basal levels (in 3-day acclimated animals) of hsp70 and abcb1 transcripts were lower in Baikalian species (Eulimnogammarus cyaneus, Eulimnogammarus verrucosus, Eulimnogammarus vittatus-the most typical littoral species) than in the Palearctic amphipod (Gammarus lacustris-the only Palearctic species distributed in the Baikalian region). In the amphipods, the stress response was induced using HSs at 10 mg L(-1) dissolved organic carbon, which was higher than in sampling sites of the studied species, but well within the range (3-10 mg L(-1)) in the surrounding water bodies populated by G. lacustris. The results of qPCR and western blotting (n = 5) showed that HS exposure led to increased hsp70/abcb1 transcripts and HSP70 protein levels in G. lacustris, whereas these transcript levels remained constant or decreased in the Baikalian species. The decreased level of stress transcripts is probably not able to confer an effective tolerance to Baikalian species against further environmental stressors in conditions with elevated HS levels. Thus, our results suggest a greater robustness of Palearctic amphipods and a higher sensitivity of Baikalian amphipods to HS challenge, which might prevent most endemic species from migrating to habitats outside Lake Baikal.