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J Comp Neurol. 2005 Jan 10;481(2):220-32.

Evolutionary conservation of the egr-1 immediate-early gene response in a teleost.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Immediate-early gene expression is a key part of a neuron's response to behaviorally relevant stimuli and, as a result, localization of immediate-early gene expression can be a useful marker for neural activity. We characterized the immediate-early gene egr-1 (also called zif268, NGFI-A, krox-24, ZENK) in the teleost Astatotilapia (Haplochromis) burtoni. We compared the A. burtoni egr-1 predicted protein sequence to that of other vertebrates, characterized its gene expression time course, and localized its induced expression throughout the brain. The A. burtoni egr-1 predicted protein shared putative functional domains with egr-1 of other vertebrates and shared 81% sequence similarity with zebrafish and 66% with mouse. We identified distinct mammalian and teleost inserts rich in serine residues within one activation domain, suggesting convergent responses to selection pressures to increase the number of serine residues in this region. Functionally, we found that A. burtoni egr-1 gene expression peaked near 30 minutes after pharmacological stimulation and thereby displayed the transient expression above basal levels characteristic of egr-1 expression in birds and mammals. Finally, we observed distinct patterns of egr-1 gene induction in the brain by natural and pharmacological stimuli. Unstimulated males had very low expression levels of egr-1, whereas males stimulated by their normal environment showed higher levels of expression specific to particular brain regions. Males injected with a glutamate receptor agonist also had region-specific induction of egr-1 expression. We conclude that the egr-1 immediate-early gene response is evolutionarily conserved and will, therefore, be useful for identifying functional neural responses in nontraditional model species.

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