GABA-Induced GnRH Release Triggers Chordate Metamorphosis

Curr Biol. 2020 Apr 20;30(8):1555-1561.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.02.003. Epub 2020 Mar 26.


Metamorphosis, a widespread life history strategy in metazoans, allows dispersal and use of different ecological niches through a dramatic body change from a larval stage [1, 2]. Despite its conservation and importance, the molecular mechanisms underlying its initiation and progression have been characterized in only a few animal models. In this study, through pharmacological and gene functional analyses, we identified neurotransmitters responsible for metamorphosis of the ascidian Ciona. Ciona metamorphosis converts swimming tadpole larvae into vase-like, sessile adults. Here, we show that the neurotransmitter GABA is a key regulator of metamorphosis. We found that gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a downstream neuropeptide of GABA. Although GABA is generally thought of as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, we found that it positively regulates secretion of GnRH through the metabotropic GABA receptor during Ciona metamorphosis. GnRH is necessary for reproductive maturation in vertebrates, and GABA is an important excitatory regulator of GnRH in the hypothalamus during puberty [3, 4]. Our findings reveal another role of the GABA-GnRH axis in the regulation of post-embryonic development in chordates.

Keywords: ascidian; gamma aminobutyric acid; gonadotropin-releasing hormone; tail regression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Ciona / genetics
  • Ciona / growth & development
  • Ciona / physiology*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / chemistry
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / genetics*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid