Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) takes a central role in the hypothalamo-pituitary-interrenaI axis (HPI axis), which is activated during stress. ACTH is produced by the corticotrope cells of the pituitary pars distalis (PD) and is under control of factors from the nucleus preopticus (NPO). The distribution of ACTH in the hypothalamo-pituitary system in common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) was assessed by immunohistochemistry. ACTH and beta-endorphin immunoreactivity was observed in the ACTH cells in the PD and in the NPO. Nerve fibers, originating from the NPO and projecting to the pituitary gland, contain beta-endorphin, but not ACTH, and these fibers either control the pituitary pars intermedia (PI) through beta-endorphin or release it to the blood. The release of pituitary ACTH (studied in a superfusion setup) must in vivo be under predominant inhibitory control of dopamine. Release of ACTH is stimulated by corticotropin-releasing hormone, but only when ACTH cells experience dopaminergic inhibition. The expression of the precursor pro-opiomelanocortin in (POMC) NPO, PD and PI was studied in an acute restraint stress paradigm by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RQ-PCR). POMC gene expression is upregulated in these three key tissues of the hypothalamo-pituitary complex, revealing a hitherto unforeseen complex role for POMC-derived peptides in the regulation of responses to stress
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