It has long been held that cortisol, a glucocorticoid in many vertebrates, performs glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid actions in the teleost fish since it lacks aldosterone. However, in addition to the counterparts of tetrapod mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs), 11-deoxycorticosterone (DOC) has been recently identified as a specific endogenous ligand for the MRs in teleosts. Here, we point out the minor role of mineralocorticoid signaling (i.e., DOC-MR) in the osmoregulation compared with those of glucocorticoid signaling (i.e., cortisol-glucocorticoid receptor [GR]), and review the current findings on the physiological roles of the DOC-MR in teleosts. Cortisol promotes both freshwater and seawater adaptation via the GRs in the osmoregulatory organs such as gills and gastrointestinal tracts, but the expressions of MR mRNA are abundant in the brains especially in the key components of the stress axis and cerebellums. Together with the behavioral effects of intracerebroventricular injection with DOC, the MR is suggested to play an important role in the brain dependent behaviors. Since the abundant expression of central MRs has been reported also in higher vertebrates and the MR is thought to be ancestral to the GR, the role of MR in fish might reflect the principal and original function of corticosteroid signaling. Functional evolution of corticosteroid systems is summarized and areas in need of research like our on-going experiments with MR-knockout medaka are outlined.
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