Of the extant vertebrate animals, the hagfishes are generally considered to be the group which diverged first from the ancestral vertebrate lineage, although molecular sequence analysis has recently suggested that they form a monophyletic group with lampreys (Stock and Whitt, 1992). The circulatory system of hagfishes has features that have been described as 'primitive' (Burggren et al. 1985), but their gills are effective gas exchangers. The gills are contained within discrete muscular pouches, and the anatomy of the blood system and ventilatory ducts has an ideal countercurrent arrangement (Mallatt and Paulsen, 1986; Elger, 1987). Reite (1969) first reported effects of catecholamines and other drugs on the branchial vasculature of hagfish. Recent studies of both perfused gills in situ and of blood flow in vivo have suggested that blood flow through the gills of hagfish is under tonic control by catecholamines (Axelsson et al. 1990; Forster et al. 1992). In teleosts, several studies have shown that adrenergic control mechanisms are involved in the distribution of blood between the arterio-arterial and the arterio-venous pathways of the gill vasculature (see Nilsson, 1983). Anatomical and ultrastructural studies have demonstrated the existence of similar pathways in hagfish (Cole, 1925; Mallatt and Paulsen, 1986; Elger, 1987). The experiments reported here demonstrate that, in the hagfish gill pouch, both adrenaline and isoprenaline can increase the proportion of fluid leaving via the efferent arterial route, at the expense of the venous outflow. Hagfish (Eptatretus cirrhatus Forster) were collected off Motunau, North Canterbury, New Zealand, and held in seawater aquaria until used. The masses of the 11 animals used in these experiments ranged from 680 to 1720 g with a mean of 1140±110 g (s.e.m.). Animals were anaesthetized in a 0.4 % solution of benzocaine in sea water. The hagfish were opened ventrally to expose the gills and their blood supply. Individual gill pouches were prepared for perfusion studies.

This content is only available via PDF.