Nitric oxide, normally toxic at high concentrations, is now known to be involved in a number of functions within the nervous system of many animals. New research being presented today at the Society for Experimental Biology conference reveals for the first time that nitric oxide is also present within the neurosecretory system of fish and may help them cope with changes in environmental salinity.
Within the mammalian nervous system it was thought that nerve cells communicated exclusively using `traditional` neurotransmitters - small peptide molecules which travel between nerve cells binding to their surface and causing them to become electrically excited. It is now believed that a new class of transmitter exists - nitric oxide (NO). As a gas, NO is able to penetrate the cell and act directly within it, modulating its activity and allowing a rapid reaction to environmental change. This transmitter has been implicated in a variety of nervous functions from olfaction -the sense of smell - to hormone release.
The presence and activity of nitric oxide has, in the last 10 years, been demonstrated in almost every species of animal, says Dr Carla Cioni of `La Sapienza` University, Rome. At the conference in Swansea, Dr Cioni will show that NO may play a role within the neurosecretory system of fish. Fish possess two neurosecretory systems - essentially nerve cells which are able to release hormones - in the brain and, strangely, the tail. The system in the tail is known as the urophysis and produces urotensins. These proteins are released into the blood and cause circulatory changes which may help the fish to cope with changes in salinity.
Jenny Gimpel | alphagalileo
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