Neuropeptides are ancient signaling molecules that are involved in many aspects of organism homeostasis and function. Urotensin II (UII), a peptide with a range of hormonal functions, previously has been reported exclusively in vertebrates. Here, we provide the first direct evidence that UII-like peptides are also present in an invertebrate, specifically, the marine mollusk Aplysia californica. The presence of UII in the central nervous system (CNS) of Aplysia implies a more ancient gene lineage than vertebrates. Using representational difference analysis, we identified an mRNA of a protein precursor that encodes a predicted neuropeptide, we named Aplysia urotensin II (apUII), with a sequence and structural similarity to vertebrate UII. With in-situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, we mapped the expression of apUII mRNA and its prohormone in the CNS and localized apUII-like immunoreactivity to buccal sensory neurons and cerebral A-cluster neurons. Mass spectrometry performed on individual isolated neurons, and tandem mass spectrometry on fractionated peptide extracts, allowed us to define the posttranslational processing of the apUII neuropeptide precursor and confirm the highly conserved cyclic nature of the mature neuropeptide apUII. Electrophysiological analysis of the central effects of a synthetic apUII suggests it plays a role in satiety and/or aversive signaling in feeding behaviors. Finding the homologue of vertebrate UII in the numerically small CNS of an invertebrate animal model is important for gaining insights into the molecular mechanisms and pathways mediating the bioactivity of UII in the higher metazoan. © 2012 Romanova et al.
Romanova, E. V., Sasaki, K., Alexeeva, V., Vilim, F. S., Jing, J., Richmond, T. A., … Sweedler, J. V. (2012). Urotensin II in Invertebrates: From Structure to Function in Aplysia californica. PLoS ONE, 7(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048764