The neurohypophysial nonapeptides vasotocin (VT) and mesotocin (MT) are the amphibian counterparts of arginine vasopressin (AVP) and oxytocin (OT). We have here reported the cloning and functional characterization of the receptors for vasotocin (VTR) and mesotocin (MTR) in two species of frog, Rana catesbeiana and Rana esculenta. The frog VTR and MTR cDNAs encode proteins of 419 and 384 amino acids respectively. Frog VTR exhibits a high degree of sequence identity with the mammalian AVP-1a (V1a) receptor while the frog MTR possesses a high degree of sequence identity with the mammalian OT receptor. Activation of VTR induced both c-fos promoter- and cAMP-responsive element (CRE)-driven transcriptional activities, while activation of MTR induced c-fos promoter-driven transcriptional activity but failed to evoke CRE-driven transcriptional activity, suggesting differential G protein coupling between VTR and MTR. The VTR exhibited the highest sensitivity for VT followed by OT > AVP≈MT, whereas the MTR showed preferential ligand sensitivity for MT > OT > VT > AVP. AV1a agonist but not V2 and OT agonists substantially activated both VTR and MTR with a similar sensitivity. V1a, V2 and OT antagonists inhibited MT-induced MTR activation but not VT-induced VTR activation. In the frog brain, VTR and MTR mRNAs were found to be widely expressed in the telencephalon, diencephalon and mesencephalon, and exhibited very similar regional distribution. In the pituitary, VTR and MTR were expressed in the distal and intermediate lobes but were virtually absent in the neural lobe. Taken together, these data indicated that, although the distribution of VTR and MTR largely overlaps in the frog brain and pituitary, VT and MT may play distinct activities owing to the ligand selectivity and different signaling pathways activated by their receptors.
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