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© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. To investigate the origins of the vertebrate stress-response system, we searched sequenced vertebrate genomes for genes resembling corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). We found that vertebrate genomes possess, in addition to CRH, another gene that resembles CRH in sequence and syntenic environment. This paralogous gene was previously identified only in the elephant shark (a holocephalan), but we find it also in marsupials, monotremes, lizards, turtles, birds, and fishes. We examined the relationship of this second vertebrate CRH gene, which we name CRH2, to CRH1 (previously known as CRH) and urocortin1/urotensin1 (UCN1/UTS1) in primitive fishes, teleosts, and tetrapods. The paralogs CRH1 and CRH2 likely evolved via duplication of CRH during a whole-genome duplication early in the vertebrate lineage. CRH2 was subsequently lost in both teleost fishes and eutherian mammals but retained in other lineages. To determine where CRH2 is expressed relative to CRH1 and UTS1, we used in situ hybridization on brain tissue from spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus), a neopterygian fish closely related to teleosts. In situ hybridization revealed widespread distribution of both crh1 and uts1 in the brain. Expression of crh2 was restricted to the putative secondary gustatory/secondary visceral nucleus, which also expressed calcitonin-related polypeptide alpha (calca), a marker of parabrachial nucleus in mammals. Thus, the evolutionary history of CRH2 includes restricted expression in the brain, sequence changes, and gene loss, likely reflecting release of selective constraints following whole-genome duplication. The discovery of CRH2 opens many new possibilities for understanding the diverse functions of the CRH family of peptides across vertebrates.

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Journal of Comparative Neurology

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