Maternal Cortisol Mediates Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Interrenal Axis Development in Zebrafish

Dinushan Nesan, Mathilakath M Vijayan
Scientific Reports 2016 March 4, 6: 22582
In zebrafish (Danio rerio), de novo synthesis of cortisol in response to stressor exposure commences only after hatch. Maternally deposited cortisol is present during embryogenesis, but a role for this steroid in early development is unclear. We tested the hypothesis that maternal cortisol is essential for the proper development of hypothalamus-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis activity and the onset of the stressor-induced cortisol response in larval zebrafish. In this study, zygotic cortisol content was manipulated by microinjecting antibody to sequester this steroid, thereby making it unavailable during embryogenesis. This was compared with embryos containing excess cortisol by microinjection of exogenous steroid. The resulting larval phenotypes revealed distinct treatment effects, including deformed mesoderm structures when maternal cortisol was unavailable and cardiac edema after excess cortisol. Maternal cortisol unavailability heightened the cortisol stress response in post-hatch larvae, whereas excess cortisol abolished the stressor-mediated cortisol elevation. This contrasting hormonal response corresponded with altered expression of key HPI axis genes, including crf, 11B hydroxylase, pomca, and star, which were upregulated in response to reduced cortisol availability and downregulated when embryos had excess cortisol. These findings for the first time underscore a critical role for maternally deposited cortisol in programming HPI axis development and function in zebrafish.


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