Molecular evolution of the growth hormone-releasing hormone/pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide gene family. Functional implication in the regulation of growth hormone secretion


    Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) belong to the same superfamily of regulatory neuropeptides and have both been characterized on the basis of their hypophysiotropic activities. This review describes the molecular evolution of the GHRH/PACAP gene family from urochordates to mammals and presents the hypothesis that the respective roles of GHRH and PACAP in the control of GH secretion are totally inverted in phylogenetically distant groups of vertebrates. In mammals, GHRH and PACAP originate from distinct precursors whereas, in all submammalian taxa investigated so far, including birds, amphibians and fish, a single precursor encompasses a GHRH-like peptide and PACAP. In mammals, GHRH-containing neurons are confined to the infundibular and dorsomedial nuclei of the hypothalamus while PACAP-producing neurons are widely distributed in hypothalamic and extrahypothalamic areas. In fish, both GHRH- and PACAP-immunoreactive neurons are restricted to the diencephalon and directly innervate the adenohypophysis. In mammals and birds, GHRH plays a predominant role in the control of GH secretion. In amphibians, both GHRH and PACAP are potent stimulators of GH release. In fish, PACAP strongly activates GH release whereas GHRH has little or no effect on GH secretion. The GHRH/PACAP family of peptides thus provides a unique model in which to investigate the structural and functional facets of evolution.

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