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PP Pepels, H Van Helvoort, SE Wendelaar Bonga and PH Balm

High concentrations (up to 600 pg/ml) of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) were detected in plasma of the teleost fish Oreochromis mossambicus (tilapia) when screening peripheral tissues of tilapia exposed to stress. Notably, the plasma CRH response to stressors in tilapia is much more pronounced than that in higher vertebrates, such as rats. After characterisation by RIA, by spiking plasma with synthetic tilapia CRH and by methanol-acid extraction, it is concluded that the immunoreactive (ir) material in plasma represents tilapia CRH(1-41). Results indicate that a CRH-binding protein is absent in tilapia plasma. Unstressed fish had plasma CRH levels under the limit of detection (<2 pg/ml), but following capture stress plasma CRH levels (170-300 pg/ml) as well as plasma cortisol levels (120 ng/ml) increased rapidly to plateau levels, which were reached after approximately 5 min. Tilapia CRH(1-41) tested at concentrations between 10(-11) and 10(-7) M in vitro did not stimulate the cortisol release from interrenal tissue. Also pretreatment of interrenal tissue with 10(-9) M CRH did not sensitise the cortisol-producing cells to a subsequent ACTH challenge. Forty-eight hours of net confinement or 48 h of cortisol treatment abolished the plasma CRH response and cortisol response to capture stress. The rapidity of the plasma CRH response and its inhibition after 48 h of stress or cortisol treatment point to release by central nervous tissue. Therefore the distribution of glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) in the brain and pituitary of tilapia was investigated. Main GR-ir cell clusters were found in the medial part (Dm) and posterior part of the dorsal telencephalon, in the preoptic region, in the inferior lobe of the hypothalamus and in the cerebellum. We conclude from comparison of CRH brain contents of unstressed and stressed fish that plasma CRH was released by CRH-ir cells located in the lateral part of the ventral telencephalon (Vl), and suggest that the cortisol feedback on CRH release by Vl is mainly exerted via the forebrain Dm region. We propose that CRH is mobilised during stress to fulfil peripheral functions, such as the regulation of circulating leukocytes or of cardiac output, as CRH receptors have been reported in these organs for fish species.

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AJ Stouthart, EC Lucassen, FJ van Strien, PH Balm, RA Lock and SE Wendelaar Bonga

Whole-body levels of ACTH, alpha-MSH and cortisol in eggs and larvae of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) were determined periodically up until 168 h after fertilisation. ACTH, alpha-MSH and cortisol immunoreactivity was detected in unfertilised eggs, and endogenous production of ACTH and alpha-MSH was observed 24 h after fertilisation and that of cortisol 36 h after fertilisation. ACTH immunoreactivity reached peak levels before hatching (56-72 h after fertilisation) and remained relatively stable thereafter, while alpha-MSH immunoreactivity started to increase after hatching. At 36 h after fertilisation, whole-body cortisol levels increased rapidly reaching peak levels at the end of hatching (72 h after fertilisation), remaining stable until the end of the experiment. From 50 h after fertilisation onwards, embryos and larvae increased their whole-body cortisol levels when subjected to handling (mechanical pressure during egg stage or netting during the larval stage). It is concluded that the pituitary-interrenal axis in carp is fully functional at the time of hatching. No indications of a stress non-responsive period after hatching were observed. To characterise ACTH and alpha-MSH immunoreactivities in carp larvae, whole-body homogenates were analysed by HPLC, with pituitary homogenates of adult carp serving as a reference. ACTH and alpha-MSH immunoreactivity in carp larvae homogenates consisted of three and two products respectively. HPLC of adult carp pituitaries revealed the presence of two ACTH immunoreactive products, which may represent a phosphorylated and a non-phosphorylated ACTH variant, while the three alpha-MSH peaks most likely represent des-acetylated, mono-acetylated and di-acetylated alpha-MSH, the latter being the predominant form. In carp larvae, however, one of the ACTH immunoreactive products co-eluted with the non-phosphorylated ACTH, while the two alpha-MSH products identified co-eluted with des-acetylated and mono-acetylated alpha-MSH, indicating that POMC processing at this stage of development is different from prohormone processing in adult fish.