In male salmonids, the age of maturation varies from 1 to 6 years and is influenced by growth during critical periods of the life cycle. The endocrine mechanisms controlling spermatogenesis and how growth affects this process are poorly understood. Recent research has indicated that gonadotropins, 11-ketotestosterone, and insulin-like growth factor I play roles in spermatogenesis in fish. To expand our understanding of the roles of these endocrine factors in onset of puberty, male spring chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were sampled at monthly intervals 14 mo prior to spermiation. This sampling regime encompassed two hypothesized critical periods when growth influences the initiation and completion of puberty for this species. Approximately 80% of the males matured during the experimental period, at age 2 in September 1999. An initial decline in the ratio of primary A to transitional spermatogonia was observed from July to December 1998, and during this period plasma levels of 11-ketotestosterone and pituitary levels of FSH increased. From January 1999 onward, males with low plasma 11-ketotestosterone levels (<1 ng/ml) had low pituitary and plasma FSH levels and no advanced development of germ cells. Conversely, from January through September 1999, males with high plasma 11-ketotestosterone levels (>1 ng/ml) had testes with progressively more advanced germ cell stages along with elevated pituitary and plasma FSH. Plasma levels of insulin-like growth factor I increased during maturation. These data provide the first physiological evidence for activation of the pituitary-testis axis during the fall critical period when maturation is initiated for the following year.
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