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RJ Arends, J Rotllant, Metz JR, JM Mancera, SE Wendelaar Bonga, and G Flik

MSH is a pituitary hormone derived by post-translational processing from POMC and involved in stress and background adaptation. N-terminal acetylation of MSH to monoacetyl alpha-MSH or diacetyl alpha-MSH increases the bioactivity of the peptide. The aim of this study was to characterize alpha-MSH acetylation in the sea bream (Sparus aurata L.) pituitary gland in response to the stressors air exposure and confinement, as well as in fish adapted for 15 days to a white, gray or black background. Pituitary homogenates were purified by reversed-phase HPLC (RP-HPLC). The alpha-MSH content of fractions was measured by RIA. Immunoreactive RP-HPLC fractions were further analyzed by electrospray mass spectrometry and the peptide sequence determined as SYSMEHFRWGKPV-NH2. In the pituitary gland of sea bream, des-, mono- and diacetyl alpha-MSH were identified. Then plasma alpha-MSH levels were measured in sea bream adapted to different backgrounds. Surprisingly, we found the highest plasma alpha-MSH levels in white-adapted as compared with black-adapted sea bream with intermediate values for gray-adapted fish. This observation is in contrast with results that have been obtained in eel, trout or terrestrial vertebrates. Next, des-, mono- and diacetyl alpha-MSH forms were measured in homogenates of the pituitary gland and in plasma of sea bream exposed to air, to confinement, or to different backgrounds. Monoacetyl alpha-MSH was the predominant form in all control and experimental groups. The lowest content of monoacetyl alpha-MSH relative to des- and diacetyl alpha-MSH was found in white-adapted fish. Levels of des- and diacetyl alpha-MSH forms were similar under all conditions. We observed that monoacetyl alpha-MSH is the most abundant isoform in the pituitary gland after background adaptation, confinement and air exposure, in sea bream. These data indicate that the physiologically most potent isoform of alpha-MSH may vary from species to species.

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Metz JR, MO Huising, J Meek, AJ Taverne-Thiele, SE Wendelaar Bonga, and G Flik

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) takes a central role in the hypothalamo-pituitary-interrenal axis (HPI axis), which is activated during stress. ACTH is produced by the corticotrope cells of the pituitary pars distalis (PD) and is under control of factors from the nucleus preopticus (NPO). The distribution of ACTH in the hypothalamo-pituitary system in common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) was assessed by immunohistochemistry. ACTH and beta-endorphin immunoreactivity was observed in the ACTH cells in the PD and in the NPO. Nerve fibers, originating from the NPO and projecting to the pituitary gland, contain beta-endorphin, but not ACTH, and these fibers either control the pituitary pars intermedia (PI) through beta-endorphin or release it to the blood. The release of pituitary ACTH (studied in a superfusion setup) must in vivo be under predominant inhibitory control of dopamine. Release of ACTH is stimulated by corticotropin-releasing hormone, but only when ACTH cells experience dopaminergic inhibition. The expression of the precursor pro-opiomelanocortin in (POMC) NPO, PD and PI was studied in an acute restraint stress paradigm by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RQ-PCR). POMC gene expression is upregulated in these three key tissues of the hypothalamo-pituitary complex, revealing a hitherto unforeseen complex role for POMC-derived peptides in the regulation of responses to stress.

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EH van Den Burg, Metz JR, RJ Arends, B Devreese, I Vandenberghe, J Van Beeumen, SE Wendelaar Bonga, and G Flik

Carp beta-endorphin is posttranslationally modified by N-terminal acetylation and C-terminal cleavage. These processes determine the biological activity of the beta-endorphins. Forms of beta-endorphin were identified in the pars intermedia and the pars distalis of the pituitary gland of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), as well as the forms released in vitro and into the blood. After separation and quantitation by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled with radioimmunoassay, the beta-endorphin immunoreactive products were identified by electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry and peptide sequencing. The release of beta-endorphins by the pituitary gland was studied after stimulation with corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) in vitro. In the pars intermedia, eight N-acetylated truncated forms were identified. Full length N-acetyl beta-endorphin(1-33) coeluted with N-acetyl beta-endorphin(1-29) and these forms together amounted to over 50% of total immunoreactivity. These products were partially processed to N-acetyl betaendorphin(1-15) (30.8% of total immunoreactivity) and N-acetyl beta-endorphin(1-10) (3.1%) via two different cleavage pathways. The acetylated carp homologues of mammalian alpha- and gamma-endorphin were also found. N-acetyl beta-endorphin(1-15) and (1-29) and/or (1-33) were the major products to be released in vitro, and were the only acetylated beta-endorphins found in blood plasma, although never together. CRF stimulated the release of opioid beta-endorphin from the pars distalis. This non-acetylated beta-endorphin represents the full length peptide and is the most abundant form in plasma.