The class Chondrichthyes, that includes Elasmobranchii and Holocephali, is a diverse group of fish occupying a key position at the base of vertebrate evolution. Their evolutionary success is greatly attributed to their wide range of reproductive strategies controlled by different endocrine mechanics. As in other vertebrates, hormonal control of reproduction in chondrichthyans is mediated by the neuropeptide gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) that regulates the brain control of gonadal activity via a hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. Chondrichthyans lack of a direct vascular supply from the hypothalamus to the zone of the pituitary where the gonadotropic activity resides, thus transport between these two zones likely occurs via the general circulation. In the brain of elasmobranchs, two groups of GnRH, GnRH-I and GnRH-II were identified, and the presence of two immunoreactive gonadotropins similar to the luteinising (LH) and follicle stimulating (FSH) hormones was identified in the pituitary. In holocephalans, only GnRH-II has been confirmed, and while gonadotropin activity has been found in the buccal pituitary lobe, the presence of gonadotropin receptors in the gonads remains unknowns. The diversity of reproductive strategies display by chondrichthyans makes it difficult to generalize the control of gametogenesis and steroidogenesis; however, some general patterns emerge. In both sexes, androgens and estrogens are the main steroids during gonadal growth; while progestins have maturational activity. Androgens also form the precursors for estrogen steroid production. Estrogens stimulate the hepatic synthesis of yolk and stimulate the development of different part of the reproductive tract in females. The role of other gonadal steroids may play in chondrichthyan reproduction remains largely unknown. Future work should concentrate in filling the gaps into the current knowledge of the HPG axis regulation, and the use of reproductive endocrinology as a non-lethal technique for management of chondrichthyan populations.
Keywords: Conservation; Elasmobranchs; Holocephalans; Reproductive biology.
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