Once there are a few data related to the pituitary gland development in Neotropical fish species, this study provides a systematic and detailed description of the pituitary morphogenesis in the characid fish A. lacustris, since hatching until adult period, using histochemistry and immunohistochemistry methods.
In A. lacustris the prolactin cells (PRL) were detected with 1 dah. They were also found with up to 0.5 dah in Salminus brasiliensis (Jesus et al. 2014), with 2 dah in Cichlasoma dimerus (Pandolfi et al. 2001), and with 7 dah in Sparus aurata (Villaplana et al. 2000). In juveniles of Ctenopharyngodon idella, PRL cells were found in individuals with 51-69 mm (Grandi et al. 2014), and in zebrafish (Danio rerio) they were detected only 30 hours after fertilization (Herzog et al. 2003).
On the timing of the onset of adenohypophyseal cells, prolactin is typically the first cell type found in the secretory portion of the gland. This early onset is related to key stages, since the development of osmoregulatory functions is hormonally controlled by PRL (Varsamos et al. 2005), hence the importance of this hormone in the initial stages after hatching (Laiz-Carrión et al. 2003; Saga et al. 1999). In teleosts, PRL is also involved in larval growth, and embryos and larvae differentiation (Majumdar and Elsholtz 1994; Naito et al. 1993) and immunoregulation (Dorshkind and Horseman 2000). Thus, it seems that PRL is essential from the beginning of larval development in A. lacustris also.
In A. lacustris, ACTH-producing cells were detected at 3 dah, at the same time of larval development as MSH-producing cells. This synchrony was also observed in S. brasiliensis at 0.5 dah (Jesus et al. 2014), and C. dimerus at 1.5 dah (Pandolfi et al. 2001). The adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and melanocortin (MSH) hormones are polypeptides that display homologous amino acid sequences, so, the first 13 amino acids of the ACTH sequence coincide with those of MSH. In addition, these hormones present a common precursor, the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) (Kawauchi and Sower 2006).
The POMC family hormones can be detected at different times, having been detected even at the time of hatching in Plecoglossus altivelis (Saga et al. 1999). In species in which these hormones were detected after hatching, this always occurs in early stages of larval development. It is known that ACTH acts on the adrenal glands promoting the release of glucocorticoids and cortisol, which, in turn, participate in important physiological processes, such as stress response, metabolism adjustment and osmoregulation (Wendellar-Bonga 1997). On the other hand, MSH promotes the dispersion of melanin granules (Agulleiro et al. 2006). Thus, the presence of these hormones seems to be related to the adaptation of the newly hatched larvae to a new environment (Laiz-Carrión et al. 2003; Tsalafouta et al. 2017).
The thyroid hormone (TSH)-producing cells were also detected at 3 dah. Few studies have described the chronology of the appearance of these cells. TSH cells were detected in Oncorhynchus keta prior to hatching (Naito et al. 1993), in S. aurata during hatching (García-Ayala et al. 2003), and in P. altivelis up to 50 dah (Saga et al. 1999). In the species in which it was not possible to detect TSH-producing cells, the main problems reported were associated to the reduced size of the pituitary gland in the larval stage (Laiz-Carrión et al. 2003), the absence of this hormone in the early stages of development or yet to the non-immunoreactivity of anti- human TSH in some fish species (Jesus et al. 2014).
TSH acts on the thyroid by regulating the synthesis of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which, in turn, regulate many physiological processes in fish (Peter 2011). TSH also acts during development, giving the body shape, head size, fin and skin growth, scales, blood tissue, and liver development (Power et al. 2001). All these functions punctuate the need for TSH during the early development.
This is the first study to use homologous antibodies to investigate the ontogeny of gonadotropic cells in a Neotropical fish species. The anti-A. lacustris Fsh and Lh beta subunits here used were developed and standardized previously by De Jesus et al. (2017). These homologous antibodies allowed us to avoid the several known problems related to the immunodetection of fish gonadotropins employing heterologous antibodies. In A. lacustris, FSH-producing cells were initially detected at 3 dah, followed by LH-producing cells at 5 dah. This fact corroborates the detection of the FSH cells prior to the detection of the LH cells in the existing ontogeny studies of the AH cells of other teleosts, such as C. dimerus [FSH - 21 dah and LH - 60 dah] (Pandolfi et al. 2006), S. aurata [FSH - 22 dah and LH - 82 dah] (Power and Canário 1992), and D. rerio [FSH - 4 dah and LH - 25 dah] (Herzog et al. 2003).
The asynchrony in the appearance of FSH and LH cells in the different teleosts species reveals that these hormones are likely to be produced in distinct populations of AH cells, as occurs in C. dimerus (Pandolfi et al. 2006). In addition, at 20 dah in A. lacustris, the number of FSH cells was greater than the number of LH cells, which also corroborates with that assertion. The variation in the appearance and detection of these cells may still be related to the reproductive cycle, since the gonadotropic hormones produced by the pituitary gland act directly on the gonads and are still capable of controlling the production of sexual steroids (Agulleiro et al. 2006). The FSH and LH-producing cells in A. lacustris appeared before the beginning of sexual differentiation, as the gonadal differentiation occurs at 58 dah in females and at 72 dah in males, according to Adolfi et al. (2015). At 20 dah, a great synthesis activity of the gonadotropic hormones was observed in juveniles of A. lacustris. These results corroborate the findings in Odontesthes bonariensis (Miranda et al. 2001) that had FSH and LH cells detected with 28 dah and 21 dah, respectively, suggesting that these hormones are produced before the gonadal differentiation (Grandi et al. 2014).
In A. lacustris, somatolactin (SL) cells were detected at 5 dah. These cells are responsible for producing somatolactin, a hormone only described in fish so far (Kawauchi and Sower 2006). These cells were also detected in D. rerio at 30 dah (Herzog et al. 2003), in S. brasiliensis at 1.5 dah (Jesus et al. 2014), in C. dimerus at 2 dah (Pandolfi et al. 2001), and in S. aurata at 3 dah (Villaplana et al. 1997). Furthermore, SL may be present in two forms, α-somatolactin and β-somatolactin, that may be produced by the same cell or by separate cells, as in the Carassius auratus pituitary, where the presence of polymorphism of SL-producing cells has been suggested (Azuma et al. 2012).
SL is found in the initial stages of development because it participates in processes related to the adaptations of the organism, mainly in key stages for the proper development of the larvae. In this way, SL is involved in aspects of adaptation to the environment (Rand-Weaver et al. 1995; Zhu and Thomas 1998), as the adaptation to the background color of the environments (Cánepa et al. 2012) and to the pigmentation regulation in fish (Fukamachi et al. 2004). In the latter study, the authors demonstrated that the mutation of the SL gene produces alteration in the color of the animal, generating white individuals. The SL is also linked to the metabolism processes, participating in the metabolic regulation of calcium (Kaneko and Hirano 1993), immune function (Dorshkind and Horseman 2000), reproduction process (Mousa and Mousa 2000), lipid metabolism, and cortisol secretion (Fukamachi et al. 2005).
GH-producing cells in A. lacustris were also detected at 5 dah. Immunostaining was initially observed in only a few cells. However, in the subsequent phases, the sections submitted to the anti-GH antibody presented intense immunostaining in almost the entire PPD lobe, and at 20 dah also in the PI lobe. GH was also detected at distinct times in different teleosts species. However, it was detected at the same stage of larval development as PRL-producing cells in C. dimerus (Pandolfi et al. 2001) and S. aurata (Villaplana et al. 2000). In addition, it has been reported in the literature that GH-producing cells were also found in PPD and PI lobes (Quesada et al. 1988), or even in RPD lobe (Laiz-Carrión et al. 2003; Power and Canário 1992; Segura-Noguera et al. 2000).
In teleosts, GH is the main hormone acting in the promotion of animal growth, being present in the first stages of development. This is a crucial hormone for larval development, as it plays a role in energy mobilization and osmoregulation (Björnsson et al. 2002). Recent functional studies in zebrafish, using knockouts for GH, PRL, and SL, indicated that these hormones play an important role in the development and growth of the swim bladder, head, body, eyes, and melanophores (Zhu et al. 2007). In A. lacustris (herein), H. hippoglossus (Einarsdóttir et al. 2006), S. brasiliensis (Jesus et al. 2014), and C. dimerus (Pandolfi et al. 2001) the SL-producing cells appeared simultaneously to the GH-producing ones. This may be related to the fact that these hormones belong to the same family, and the difference in the chronology of the appearance is probably due to the larval development being different among the fish species.
Finally, the pituitary gland of A. lacustris was detected shortly after hatching and presented some morphological changes throughout its development. The early detection of all AH cells during larval development suggests that these hormones actively participate in A. lacustris larval process. The ontogeny of AH cells in A. lacustris corroborates the heterogeneity in the appearance of these cell types in teleosts. Most of the morphological features in the adult pituitary are similar to those described for other teleosts species.