Fish endocrinologists are commonly motivated to pursue their research driven by their own interests in these aquatic animals. However, the data obtained in fish studies not only satisfy their own interests but often contribute more generally to the studies of other vertebrates, including mammals. The life of fishes is characterized by the aquatic habitat, which demands many physiological adjustments distinct from the terrestrial life. Among them, body fluid regulation is of particular importance as the body fluids are exposed to media of varying salinities only across the thin respiratory epithelia of the gills. Endocrine systems play pivotal roles in the homeostatic control of body fluid balance. Judging from the habitat-dependent control mechanisms, some osmoregulatory hormones of fish should have undergone functional and molecular evolution during the ecological transition to the terrestrial life. In fact, water-regulating hormones such as vasopressin are essential for survival on the land, whereas ion-regulating hormones such as natriuretic peptides, guanylins and adrenomedullins are diversified and exhibit more critical functions in aquatic species. In this short review, we introduce some examples illustrating how comparative fish studies contribute to general endocrinology by taking advantage of such differences between fishes and tetrapods. In a functional context, fish studies often afford a deeper understanding of the essential actions of a hormone across vertebrate taxa. Using the natriuretic peptide family as an example, we suggest that more functional studies on fishes will bring similar rewards of understanding. At the molecular level, recent establishment of genome databases in fishes and mammals brings clues to the evolutionary history of hormone molecules via a comparative genomic approach. Because of the functional and molecular diversification of ion-regulating hormones in fishes, this approach sometimes leads to the discovery of new hormones in tetrapods as exemplified by adrenomedullin 2.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.