Endocrine-like Signaling in Cnidarians: Current Understanding and Implications for Ecophysiology. Academic Article uri icon


  • The vertebrate endocrine system is well-characterized, with many reports of disruption by environmental chemicals. In contrast, cnidarians are less compartmentalized, physiological regulation is poorly understood, and the potential for disruption is unknown. Endocrine-like activity has not been systematically studied in cnidarians, but several classical vertebrate hormones (e.g., steroids, iodinated organic compounds, neuropeptides, and indoleamines) have been identified in cnidarian tissues. Investigators have made progress in identifying putative bioregulatory molecules in cnidarians, and testing the effects of these individual compounds. Less progress has been made in elucidating signaling pathways. For example, putative gonadotropin-releasing hormone and sex steroids have been identified in cnidarian tissues, but it is unknown whether these compounds are components of a larger signal cascade comparable to the vertebrate hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Further, while sex steroids and iodinated organic compounds may help to regulate cnidarian physiology, the mechanisms of action are unknown. Homologs to the vertebrate steroid and thyroid receptors have not been identified in cnidarians, so more research is needed to understand the mechanisms of endocrine-like signaling in cnidarians. Elucidation of cnidarian regulatory pathways will provide insight into evolution of hormonal signaling. These studies will also improve understanding of how cnidarians respond to environmental cues and will provide a basis to investigate disruption of physiological processes by physical and chemical stressors.

publication date

  • January 2005