Abstract Hypoxia represents a major physiological challenge for prawn culture, and the hepatopancreas plays an important role in these processes. Here, we applied high-throughput sequencing technology to detect the gene expression profile of the hepatopancreas in Macrobrachium nipponense in response to hypoxia for 3h and hypoxia for 24h. Gene expression profiling identified 1925 genes that were significantly up- or down-regulated by dissolved oxygen availability. Functional categorization of the differentially expressed genes revealed that oxygen transport, electron transport chain, reactive oxygen species generation/scavenging, and immune response were the differentially regulated processes occurring during environmental hypoxia. Finally, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction using six genes independently verified the tag-mapped results. Immunohistochemistry analysis revealed, for the first time, hemocyanin protein expression as significant hypoxia-specific signature in prawns, which opens the way for in depth molecular studies of hypoxia exposure. The analysis of changes in hepatic gene expression in oriental river prawn provides a preliminary basis for a better understanding of the molecular response to hypoxia exposures.