Mammalian pituitaries exhibit a high degree of intercellular coordination; this enables them to mount large-scale coordinated responses to various physiological stimuli. This type of communication has not been adequately demonstrated in teleost pituitaries, which exhibit direct hypothalamic innervation and expression of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in distinct cell types. We found that in two fish species, namely tilapia and zebrafish, LH cells exhibit close cell-cell contacts and form a continuous network throughout the gland. FSH cells were more loosely distributed but maintained some degree of cell-cell contact by virtue of cytoplasmic processes. These anatomical differences also manifest themselves at the functional level as evidenced by the effect of gap-junction uncouplers on gonadotropin release. These substances abolished the LH response to gonadotropin-releasing hormone stimulation but did not affect the FSH response to the same stimuli. Dye transfer between neighboring LH cells provides further evidence for functional coupling. The two gonadotropins were also found to be differently packaged within their corresponding cell types. Our findings highlight the evolutionary origin of pituitary cell networks and demonstrate how the different levels of cell-cell coordination within the LH and FSH cell populations are reflected in their distinct secretion patterns.
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