[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a neuroendocrine peptide that plays a central role in the vertebrate hypothalamo-pituitary axis. The roles of GnRH in the control of vertebrate reproductive functions have been established, while its non-reproductive function has been suggested but less well understood. Here we show that the tunicate Ciona intestinalis has in its non-reproductive larval stage a prominent GnRH system spanning the entire length of the nervous system. Tunicate GnRH receptors are phylogenetically closest to vertebrate GnRH receptors, yet functional analysis of the receptors revealed that these simple chordates have evolved a unique GnRH system with multiple ligands and receptor heterodimerization enabling complex regulation. One of the gnrh genes is conspicuously expressed in the motor ganglion and nerve cord, which are homologous structures to the hindbrain and spinal cord of vertebrates. Correspondingly, GnRH receptor genes were found to be expressed in the tail muscle and notochord of embryos, both of which are phylotypic axial structures along the nerve cord. Our findings suggest a novel non-reproductive role of GnRH in tunicates. Furthermore, we present evidence that GnRH-producing cells are present in the hindbrain and spinal cord of the medaka, Oryzias latipes, thereby suggesting the deep evolutionary origin of a non-reproductive GnRH system in chordates.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) controls reproductive functions in vertebrates. In the present study, two distinct homologues (Ci-GnRHR1 and Ci-GnRHR2) of the vertebrate GnRH receptor (GnRHR) were identified by cDNA cloning from the neural complex of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. The Ci-GnRHR1 and Ci-GnRHR2 genes are closely linked to each other and form a cluster with another GnRHR-like gene in the genome. Ci-GnRHR1 and Ci-GnRHR2 are more closely related to vertebrate GnRHRs than to the GnRHR-related protein of Drosophila. The phylogenetic analysis indicates that vertebrates and urochordates independently acquired multiple GnRHRs by gene duplications that occurred during the evolution of each lineage. A voltage clamp of Xenopus oocytes injected with synthetic Ci-GnRHR1 mRNA revealed inward currents in response to an ascidian form of GnRH, suggesting that Ci-GnRHR1 is a bona-fide GnRHR. Expression patterns of Ci-GnRHR1 and Ci-GnRHR2 suggest that a GnRH signaling system is involved in regulation of neuronal and reproductive processes as well as in other physiological functions in ascidians.