|dc.description.abstract||The subject of this thesis is the identification and functional characterization of sea urchin neuropeptides. Neuropeptides are important mediators of neural signalling in all known animals with a nervous system, including bilaterians, ctenophorans, and cnidarians. Sea urchin neuropeptides are of particular interest for three significant reasons; echinoderms have a radically different secondarily-derived pentaradial body structure, sea urchins have served as model organisms for research into embryonic development, and thirdly because the genome of a sea urchin, the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Stimpson, 1857) has been sequenced (Sodergren et al., 2006). Only one family of neuropeptides, the SALMFamides, has previously been characterized in all classes of the phylum Echinodermata.
The thesis reports the identification of putative neuropeptide GPCRs and at least seven novel sea urchin neuropeptide genes using genomic and Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) analysis. The novel sea urchin neuropeptides identified include putative homologues of vasotocin, the sea cucumber neuropeptide NGIWYamide, thyrotropin-releasing hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and calcitonin. A further three peptide precursor genes encoding peptides lacking strong homology to any known peptides were also identified and the peptides have been named GKamides and Pedal Peptide-like Neuropeptides. Two of the peptide precursor genes, those encoding peptides homologous to vasotocin and NGIWYamide, also each encode neurophysin domains, which have previously only been identified in association with vasopressin/oxytocin-like peptides. Biochemical and pharmacological techniques were employed to investigate the occurrence and functions of the putative neuropeptides identified. These included mass spectroscopy and in vitro bioassays, the former to detect the putative novel neuropeptides identified in this study and the latter to investigate bioactivity of the peptides in sea urchins. The thesis provides evidence of the neural expression and bioactivity of novel sea urchin neuropeptides and contributes to our understanding of the role of neuropeptides in echinoderm physiology and behaviour.||en_US