Two POMC-like pituitary prohormones proopiocortin (POC) and proopiomelanotropin (POM) have been characterized from adult sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus). POC encodes a nasohypophysial factor (NHF), ACTH, an MSH, and β-END; and POM encodes MSH-A, MSH-B, and β-END. Two radiolabeled riboprobes, one encoding a unique portion of POC mRNA and the other encoding the MSH-B domain unique to POM mRNA, were generated in order to examine the expression of POC and POM during the life cycle of the sea lamprey by in situ hybridization. POC expression appears evenly distributed throughout most cells of the rostral pars distalis (RPD) during the entire life cycle. POC expression also occurs in scattered cells of the caudal (proximal) pars distalis (CPD) at stage 5 of metamorphosis. By the prespawner period, POC expression is mainly distributed in the dorsal aspect of this region. POM expression was completely confined to most cells of the pars intermedia (PI) at all periods examined. Quantitative, computer-assisted, image analysis of POM expression revealed high signal densities in all larvae which decreased by early metamorphosis, steadily increased and reached high levels by late metamorphosis (stages 6 and 7), and attained even higher levels in prespawners. Volumetric analysis revealed that the net volume of POM expressing cells is at its lowest in larvae and increases during subsequent development. Analysis of signal density and volumetric measurements of POC expression revealed that POC expression in the RPD islow in larvae and steadily increases during subsequent intervals of the life cycle reaching very high levels by the prespawning period. POC expression in the CPD, first visible at stage 5, increases steadily throughout the remainder of metamorphosis and reaches the highest levels of expression in prespawning animals. These results would implicate the role of POM and POC in some developmental processes but not in the initiation of metamorphosis. The very high levels of POM and POC expression in prespawner animals suggest that the two genes may have important roles at this time in the life cycle of lampreys.
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