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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2011 Mar 1;171(1):82-93. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2010.12.006. Epub 2010 Dec 17.

Ontogenic characterization of gene expression in the developing neuroendocrine system of the chick.

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Molecular and Cell Biology Program, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


The neuroendocrine system consists of five major hypothalamic-pituitary hormone axes that regulate several important metabolic processes, and it develops in all vertebrates during embryogenesis. In order to define initiation and establishment of these five axes, mRNA expression profiles of hypothalamic releasing and release-inhibiting factors, their pituitary receptors, and pituitary hormones were characterized during the second half of embryogenesis and first week post-hatch in the chick. Axis initiation was defined as the age when pituitary hormone mRNA levels began to increase substantially, and establishment was defined as the age when mRNA for all components had reached maximum expression levels. The adrenocorticotropic axis appears established by e12, as there were no major increases in gene expression after that age. Hypothalamic thyrotropin-releasing hormone and pituitary thyroid-stimulating hormone β-subunit increased between e10 and e18, indicating establishment of the thyrotropic axis during this period. Pituitary growth hormone substantially increased on e16, and hypothalamic growth hormone-releasing hormone did not increase until e20, indicating that somatotropic axis activity is established late in embryonic development. Lactotropic axis initiation is evident just prior to hatch, as pituitary prolactin and vasoactive intestinal peptide receptor 1 did not increase until e18 and e20, respectively. Hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone 1 increased after hatch, and pituitary luteinizing hormone β-subunit expression remained low until d3, indicating the gonadotropic axis is not fully functional until after hatching. This study is the first to characterize major hypothalamic and pituitary components of all five neuroendocrine axes simultaneously and considerably increases our understanding of neuroendocrine system establishment during development.

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