Gonadotropin releasing hormone in the primitive vertebrate family Myxinidae: reproductive neuroanatomy and evolutionary aspects.

: The family Myxinidae embraces all hagfish species, and occupies an evolutionary niche intermediate between ancestral vertebrates and the gnathostomes (jawed vertebrates). Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) modulates neuroendocrine activity in vertebrates and works in the context of the hypothalamic-pituitary (H-P) axis. The appearance of this neuroendocrine axis marks one of the most crucial developmental achievements in vertebrate evolution, because it enabled further diversification in general growth, metabolism, osmoregulation and reproduction as jawed vertebrates evolved. GnRH studies in hagfish draw attention because such work may be considered as providing proxy data for similar investigations conducted upon long extinct species. Indeed, the fossil record reveals little anatomical difference between those hagfish living 300 million years ago and their modern descendants. Accordingly, the hagfish can offer important evolutionary lessons as they have some highly unusual characteristics not seen in any other vertebrate; they retain many representative features of an ancestral state from which all vertebrates originated. Indeed, because central control of reproduction is perhaps the most basic function of the vertebrate H-P axis, and given the importance of GnRH in this network, research on GnRH in hagfish can help elucidate the early evolution of the H-P system itself. Like all vertebrates, hagfish have a functional hypothalamic area and a pituitary gland, constituting a basic H-P axis. But what role does GnRH play in the reproductive system of this "living fossil"? How can understanding GnRH in hagfish help advance the knowledge of vertebrate neuroendocrinology? Here, information on neuroendocrine function and the role of GnRH specifically in this very basal vertebrate is reviewed.

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