The ancestors of chemokines originate in the most primitive of vertebrates, which has recently attracted great interest in the immune functions and the underlying mechanisms of fish chemokines. In the current study, we identified an evolutionarily conserved chemokine, CiCXCL13, from a teleost fish, grass carp. CiCXCL13 was characterized by a typical SCY (small cytokine CXC) domain and four cysteine residues (C34, C36, C61, C77), with the first two cysteines separated by a random amino acid residue, although it shared 24.2–54.8% identity with the counterparts from other vertebrates. CiCXCL13 was an inducible chemokine, whose expression was significantly upregulated in the immune tissues of grass carps after grass carp reovirus infection. CiCXCL13 could bind to the membrane of grass carp head kidney leukocytes and promote cell migration, NO release, and the expression of >15 inflammatory cytokines, including IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-10 and TGF-β1, thus regulating the inflammatory response. Mechanistically, CiCXCL13 interacted with its evolutionarily conserved receptor CiCXCR5 and activated the Akt–NF-κB and p38–AP-1 pathways, as well as a previously unrevealed p38–NF-κB pathway, to efficiently induce inflammatory cytokine expression, which was distinct from that reported in mammals. Zebrafish CXCL13 induced inflammatory cytokine expression through Akt, p38, NF-κB, and AP-1 as CiCXCL13. Meanwhile, the CiCXCL13–CiCXCR5 axis–mediated inflammatory activity was negatively shaped by grass carp atypical chemokine receptor 2 (CiACKR2). The present study is, to our knowledge, the first to comprehensively define the immune function of CXCL13 in inflammatory regulation and the underlying mechanism in teleosts, and it provides a valuable perspective on the evolution and biology of fish chemokines.

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