Adrenocorticotropic hormone enhances the masculinity of an electric communication signal by modulating the waveform and timing of action potentials within individual cells

J Neurosci. 2005 Sep 21;25(38):8746-54. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2809-05.2005.


We report here that melanocortin peptides appear to serve as the mechanism by which weakly electric fish couple socially regulated and stress-regulated brain pathways to unique changes in the intrinsic excitability and action potential waveform of excitable membranes in peripheral cells involved in communication. Gymnotiform electric fish modulate their electric organ discharges (EODs) by reshaping the electric discharges of excitable cells in the periphery. These fish show circadian enhancement of the EOD waveform. They also enhance their EOD waveforms within minutes in response to stressors and changes in the social environment, thus altering the communication value of the signal. Changes in the EOD waveform that occur within minutes result from changes in the discharges of individual electrocytes (microEODs) mediated by the cAMP/protein kinase A (PKA) pathway acting on ion channel kinetics. What activates the cAMP/PKA pathway in electrocytes has not been identified. In vivo injections of the melanocortin peptide adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) increase the amplitude and duration of the electric signal waveform of the gymnotiform Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus over the course of 1 h. Applied to single electrocytes in vitro, ACTH increases microEOD amplitude and duration within minutes by differentially modulating the action potentials of the two excitable membranes of the electrocyte and changing the timing of these two spikes. Serotonin modulates the EOD in vivo but has no effect on the microEOD in vitro. The cAMP analog 8-bromo-cAMP mimicked the effects of ACTH, whereas inhibition of PKA by protein kinase A inhibitor 14-22 amide blocked the modulatory effects of ACTH, confirming the role of the cAMP/PKA pathway in microEOD modulation by ACTH.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate / pharmacology
  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / pharmacology*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Electric Organ / drug effects
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Gymnotiformes / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*


  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone