• V1aR;
  • vasotocin receptors;
  • corticotrophs;
  • immobilisation

The neurohormone arginine vasotocin (AVT) in non mammalian vertebrates is homologous to arginine vasopressin (AVP) in mammals. Its actions are mediated via G protein-coupled receptors that belong to the vasotocin/mesotocin family. Because of the known regulatory effects of nonapeptide hormones on anterior pituitary functions, receptor subtypes in that family have been proposed to be located in anterior pituitary cells. Recently, an avian vasotocin receptor subtype designated VT4R has been cloned, which shares 69% sequence homology with a human vasopressin receptor, the V1aR. In the present study, a polyclonal antibody to the VT4R was developed and validated to confirm its specificity to the VT4R. The antibody was used to test the hypothesis that the VT4R is present in the avian anterior pituitary and is specifically associated with certain cell types, where its expression is modulated by acute stress. Western blotting of membrane protein extracts from pituitary tissue, the use of HeLa cells transfected with the VT4R and peptide competition assays all confirmed the specificity of the antibody to the VT4R. Dual-labelling immunofluorescence microscopy was utilised to identify pituitary cell types that contained immunoreactive VT4R. The receptor was found to be widely distributed throughout the cephalic lobe but not in the caudal lobe of the anterior pituitary. Immunoreactive VT4R was associated with corticotrophs. Approximately 89% of immunolabelled corticotrophs were shown to contain the VT4R. The immunoreactive VT4R was not found in gonadotrophs, somatotrophs or lactotrophs. To determine a possible functional role of the VT4R and previously characterised VT2R, gene expression levels in the anterior pituitary were determined after acute immobilisation stress by quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. The results showed a significant increase in plasma corticosterone levels (three- to four-fold), a significant reduction of VT4R mRNA and an increase of VT2R mRNA (P < 0.05) in acutely immobilised chicks compared to controls. The data suggest a role of the VT4R in the avian stress response.