Probing undiscovered hypothalamic neuropeptides that play important roles in the regulation of pituitary function in vertebrates is essential for the progress of neuroendocrinology. In 2000, we discovered a novel hypothalamic dodecapeptide inhibiting gonadotropin release in quail and termed it gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH). GnIH acts on the pituitary and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons in the hypothalamus via a novel G protein-coupled receptor for GnIH to inhibit gonadal development and maintenance by decreasing gonadotropin release and synthesis. Similar findings were observed in other avian species. Thus, GnIH is a key factor controlling avian reproduction. To give our findings a broader perspective, we also found GnIH homologous peptides in the hypothalamus of other vertebrates, such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and teleosts. GnIH and its homologs share a common C-terminal LPXRFamide (X = L or Q) motif. A mammalian GnIH homolog also inhibited gonadotropin release in mammals like the GnIH action in birds. In contrast to higher vertebrates, hypophysiotropic activities of GnIH homologs were different in lower vertebrates. To clarify the evolutionary origin of GnIH and its homologs, we further sought to identify novel LPXRFamide peptides from the brain of sea lamprey and hagfish, two extant groups of the oldest lineage of vertebrates, Agnatha. In these agnathans, LPXRFamide peptide and its cDNA were identified only from the brain of hagfish. Based on these findings over the past decade, this paper summarizes the evolutionary origin and divergence of GnIH and its homologous peptides.
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