Fish Physiology and Biochemistry

, Volume 17, Issue 1–6, pp 9–24 | Cite as

The biology of salmon growth hormone: from daylight to dominance

  • B.Th. Björnsson


The elucidation of the molecular structure of salmon growth hormone (GH) in the mid-1980's paved the way for a new era of endocrinological research. Establishment of homologous immuno- and receptor-assays have made studies of the secretion, tissue and plasma GH levels, GH turn-over and GH receptor concentrations possible. This overview attempts to summarize the present understanding of the biological roles of GH in salmon. Although the involvement of GH in the regulation of physiological processes throughout the salmon life history has yet to be comprehensively explored, the hormone has already been demonstrated to have several important functions. GH is a principal regulator of somatic growth in salmonids. The growth-stimulating effect of GH is probably integrated with that of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), as in later vertebrates. GH stimulates protein synthesis and improves feed conversion during growth. The hormone also promotes lipid and glycogen breakdown as well as gluconeogenesis, functions which are probably of great importance during starvation when GH levels are seen to increase. During parr-smolt transformation of anadromous salmonids, circulating GH levels appear to be governed by environmental cues. Increasing springtime daylength elevates GH levels, and temperature modulates the photoperiod regulation of GH. The seawater-adapting role of GH during the parr-smolt transformation is complex. In freshwater, GH improves hypoosmoregulatory ability by stimulating branchial Na+,K+-ATPase activity and probably also acts in kidney and intestine. Following seawater entry, GH levels and turn-over increase transiently, probably to further increase seawater tolerance. Accumulating in vitro and in vivo data support the conclusion that GH is involved in the regulation of sexual maturation in salmonids although further studies are needed to establish the exact role of GH in this process. GH increases appetite but it is unclear whether the hormone effects the central nervous system directly, or acts indirectly through metabolic changes. GH increases swimming activity as well as dominant feeding behaviour and diminishes anti-predator behaviour of juvenile salmonids. The GH-induced changes of behavioural patterns imply that there exists an ecological trade-off between high growth rate and long-term survival which may explain why natural fish populations normally grow at sub-maximal rates. Current knowledge indicates that GH is an important and multi-functional hormone in salmon and a central mediator of seasonal changes in physiology and behaviour. The regulatory effects of GH are also of great applied interest as they are likely to affect both product quality in aquaculture and long-term survival of released fish.

growth hormone insulin-like growth factor I salmonids secretion regulation metabolism photoperiod temperature smoltification seawater tolerance appetite aggression predator avoidance behaviour 

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • B.Th. Björnsson
    • 1
  1. 1.Fish Endocrinology Laboratory, Department of ZoophysiologyGöteborg UniversityGöteborgSweden

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