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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2006 Mar;146(1):45-55. Epub 2006 Jan 10.

The corticotropin-releasing factor system as a mediator of the appetite-suppressing effects of stress in fish.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Ont., Canada N1G 2W1.


A characteristic feature of the behavioural response to intensely acute or chronic stressors is a reduction in appetite. In fish, as in other vertebrates, the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system plays a key role in coordinating the neuroendocrine, autonomic, and behavioural responses to stress. The following review documents the evidence implicating the CRF system as a mediator of the appetite-suppressing effects of stress in fish. Central injections of CRF or the related peptide, urotensin I (UI), or pharmacological treatments or stressors that result in an increase in forebrain CRF and UI gene expression, can elicit dose-dependent reductions in food intake that are at least partially reversed by pre-treatment with a CRF receptor antagonist. In addition, the appetite suppressing effects of various environmental, pathological, physical, and social stressors are associated with elevated levels of forebrain CRF and UI gene expression and with an activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) stress axis. In contrast, although stressors can also be associated with an increase in caudal neurosecretory system CRF and UI gene expression and an endocrine role for CRF-related peptides has been suggested, the physiological effects of peripheral CRF-related peptides on the gastrointestinal system and in the regulation of appetite have not been investigated. Overall, while CRF and UI appear to participate in the stress-induced changes in feeding behaviour in fish, the role of other know components of the CRF system is not known. Moreover, the extent to which the anorexigenic effects of CRF-related peptides are mediated through the hypothalamic feeding center, the HPI axis and cortisol, or via actions on descending autonomic pathways remains to be investigated.

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