Early-life glucocorticoids programme behaviour and metabolism in adulthood in zebrafish
Cortisol is a pleiotropic glucocorticoid hormone that acts through the intracellular glucocorticoid receptors (GR). Cortisol affects many important biological functions in mammals, including immune function, behavior, stress, metabolism, growth and organogenesis. In fishes, cortisol has an additional function in the osmoregulatory activity of ionocytes (ICs). Although much progress has been made toward understanding cortisol action at the levels of adult osmoregulatory tissues, the developmental functions of cortisol and its receptors in ICs remain to be clarified. We first analyzed the total contents of both cortisol and corticosteroid receptor mRNAs (GR1, GR2 and MR) during medaka development. Although low levels of cortisol were detected during development of the medaka embryo, maternal GR1, GR2 and MR transcripts were detected at higher levels than zygotic transcripts. We investigated the effect of exogenous cortisol on IC number during medaka embryogenesis. We observed that cortisol treatment induced an earlier expansion of the IC population but did not modify the final IC number. Using functional genomic approaches, we also tested the involvement of GR1, GR2 and mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) in IC development by systematic knock-down with translation-blocking morpholinos. Only GR2 knock-down led to a reduction of the total number of ICs in the epidermis. In addition, a GR2 splice-blocking morpholino did not have any effect on the biogenesis of ICs, underscoring the importance of maternally inherited GR2 mRNAs. We propose that maternal GR2, but not GR1 or MR, is a major pathway in the IC biogenesis in medaka most likely through cortisol activation, and that cortisol exposition fine-tunes their developmental timing. These findings provide a framework for future research on the regulatory functions of corticosteroids in euryhaline fishes and provide medaka as an advantageous model to further elucidate the underlying molecular regulatory mechanisms of IC development.