Physiological mechanism of homing migration in Pacific salmon from behavioral to molecular biological approaches

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2011 Jan 15;170(2):222-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2010.02.003. Epub 2010 Feb 6.


The amazing abilities of Pacific salmon to migrate long distances from the ocean to their natal streams for spawning have been investigated intensively since 1950's, but there are still many mysteries because of difficulties to follow their whole life cycle and to wait their sole reproductive timing for several years. In my laboratory, we have tried to clarify physiological mechanisms of homing migration in Pacific salmon, using four anadromous Pacific salmon (pink, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha; chum, Oncorhynchus keta; sockeye, Oncorhynchus nerka; masu, Oncorhynchus masou) in the north Pacific Ocean as well as two lacustrine salmon (sockeye and masu) in Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan, where the lakes serve as a model "ocean". Three different approaches from behavioral to molecular biological researches have been conducted using these model fish. First, the homing behaviors of adult chum salmon from the Bering Sea to Hokkaido as well as lacustrine sockeye and masu salmon in Lake Toya were examined by means of physiological biotelemetry techniques, and revealed that salmon can navigate in open water using different sensory systems. Second, the hormone profiles in the brain-pituitary-gonadal (BPG) axis were investigated in chum salmon and lacustrine sockeye salmon during their homing migration by means of hormone specific time-resolved fluoroimmunoassay (TR-FIA) systems, and clarified that salmon gonadotropin-releasing hormone (sGnRH) plays leading roles on homing migration. Third, the olfactory functions of salmon were studied by means of electrophysiological, behavioral, and molecular biological techniques, and made clear that olfactory discriminating ability of natal stream odors. These results have discussed with the evolutional aspects of four Pacific salmon, sexual differences in homing profiles, and the possibility of dissolved free amino acids (DFAA) as natal stream odors for salmon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Imprinting, Psychological
  • Models, Biological
  • Odorants
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Salmon / genetics
  • Salmon / physiology*
  • Smell
  • Telemetry


  • Hormones