Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) is a key regulator of sexual development and reproduction in vertebrates. Fish have either two or three pre-pro-GnRH genes, encoding structurally distinct peptides. We identified three pre-pro-GnRH genes in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua, gmGnRH) using RT-PCR, RACE-PCR and BAC DNA library clone sequencing based on synteny searching. Gene identity was confirmed by sequence alignment and subsequent phylogenetic analysis. The expression of these genes was measured by quantitative PCR in the brain and pituitary of female cod throughout their reproductive cycle and in peripheral tissues. All three gmGnRH genes have highly conserved deduced decapeptide sequences, but sequence and phylogenetic data for gmGnRH1 suggest that this is a pseudogene. gmGnRH1 shares low identity with all fish GnRH variants and grouped with the GnRH3 clade. Although gmGnRH1 is a putative pseudogene, it is transcribed in multiple tissues but at low levels in the brain, indicating the loss of conserved hypophysiotrophic function. Phylogenetic analysis reveals that gmGnRH2 and gmGnRH3 variants are located in variant-specific clades. Both gmGnRH2 and gmGnRH3 transcripts are most abundant in the brain, with lower expression in pituitaries and ovaries. Brain gmGnRH3 gene expression increases in spawning fish and is expressed in the pituitary during puberty. Brain gmGnRH2 transcripts are highly expressed relative to gmGnRH3 before and during spawning. Sequence and expression data suggest that gmGnRH1 is a pseudogene and that gmGnRH3 is likely the hypophysiotrophic form of GnRH in Atlantic cod.
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