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Early life stages are sensitive to environmental insults and changes during critical developmental periods; this can often result in altered adult behaviour and physiology. Examining the development of the hypothalamus-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis and its responsiveness, or lack thereof, during development are important for understanding the short- and long-term impacts of stressors on embryonic and larval fish. We examined the ontogeny of the HPI axis in embryonic (21, 38, 63, 83 and 103 days post-fertilisation (dpf)) and larval (1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks post-hatch (wph)) lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) by quantifying changes in mRNA levels of several genes associated with HPI axis functioning and whole animal cortisol levels throughout development and in response to a severe or mild hypoxic stress. Cortisol, and crh, crhbp1, pomc and star transcripts were detected from the earliest embryonic age studied. Cortisol levels in control embryos decreased between 21 and 63 dpf, suggesting the utilisation of maternal cortisol deposits. However, by 83 dpf (70% developed) endogenous de novo synthesis had generated a 4.5-fold increase in whole embryo cortisol. Importantly, we provide novel data showing that the HPI axis can be activated even earlier. Whole body cortisol increased in eyed lake whitefish embryos (38 dpf; ~32% developed) in response to hypoxia stress. Coincident with this hypoxia-induced increase in cortisol in 38 dpf embryos were corresponding increases in crh, crhbp1, pomc and star transcript levels. Beyond 38 dpf, the HPI axis in lake whitefish embryos was hyporesponsive to hypoxia stress at all embryonic ages examined (63, 83 and 103 dpf; 54, 72 and 85% developed, respectively). Post-hatch, larvae responded to hypoxia with an increase in cortisol levels and HPI axis genes at 1 wph, but this response was lost and larvae appeared hyporesponsive at subsequent ages (2, 3 and 4 wph). Collectively our work demonstrates that during fish embryogenesis and the larval stage there are windows where the HPI axis is responsive and windows where it is truly hyporesponsive; both could be beneficial in ensuring undisrupted development particularly in the face of increasing environmental changes. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Lindy M Whitehouse, Erin Faught, Mathilakath M Vijayan, Richard G Manzon. Hypoxia affects the ontogeny of the hypothalamus-pituitary-interrenal axis functioning in the lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). General and comparative endocrinology. 2020 Sep 01;295:113524

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PMID: 32526331

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