CRF and urocortin 3 protect the heart from hypoxia/reoxygenation-induced apoptosis in zebrafish

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017 Aug 1;313(2):R91-R100. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00045.2017. Epub 2017 May 24.


Fish routinely experience environmental hypoxia and have evolved various strategies to tolerate this challenge. Given the key role of the CRF system in coordinating the response to stressors and its cardioprotective actions against ischemia in mammals, we sought to characterize the cardiac CRF system in zebrafish and its role in hypoxia tolerance. We established that all genes of the CRF system, the ligands CRFa, CRFb, urotensin 1 (UTS1), and urocortin 3 (UCN3); the two receptor subtypes (CRFR1 and CRFR2); and the binding protein (CRFBP) are expressed in the heart of zebrafish: crfr1 > crfr2 = crfbp > crfa > ucn3 > crfb > uts1 In vivo, exposure to 5% O2 saturation for 15 min and 90 min of recovery resulted in four- to five-fold increases in whole heart crfb and ucn3 mRNA levels but did not affect the gene expression of other CRF system components. In vitro, as assessed by monitoring caspase 3 activity and the number of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling-positive cells, pretreatment of excised whole hearts with CRF or UCN3 for 30 min prevented the increase in apoptosis associated with exposure to 1% O2 saturation for 30 min with a 24-h recovery. Lastly, the addition of the nonselective CRF receptor antagonist αh-CRF(9-41) prevented the cytoprotective effects of CRF. We show that the CRF system is expressed in fish heart, is upregulated by hypoxia, and is cytoprotective. These findings identify a novel role for the CRF system in fish and a new strategy to tolerate hypoxia.

Keywords: CRH; UCN3; cytoprotection; heart; hypoxia.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Heart / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Myocardial Reperfusion Injury / physiopathology*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Urocortins / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*


  • Urocortins
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone