Inflammation induces dramatic changes in the biosynthetic profile of the liver, leading to increased serum concentrations of positive acute phase (AP) proteins and decreased concentrations of negative AP proteins. Serum amyloid A (SAA) and the pentraxins C-reactive protein (CRP) and serum amyloid P component (SAP) are major AP proteins: their serum levels can rise by 1000-fold, indicating that they play a critical role in defense and/or the restoration of homeostasis. We have cloned SAA and a SAP-like pentraxin from salmonid fish species. The salmonid SAA shares approximately 70% amino acid identity with mammalian AP SAA. When salmonids are challenged with an AP stimulus, i.e., Aeromonas salmonicida, SAA responds dramatically as a major AP reactant. The salmonid pentraxin shows approximately 40% amino acid identity to both mammalian SAP and CRP. Evolutionary analysis suggests the presence of only a single such protein in teleosts and lower animal species. Surprisingly, the salmonid pentraxin behaves as a negative AP reactant, reminiscent of the SAP-like Syrian hamster female protein, in that hepatic mRNA concentrations decline to 50% of prestimulus levels. This study reinforces the hypothesis that SAA induction is an essential and universal feature of the vertebrate AP response and that it represents part of an ancient host defense system. Conversely, the species-dependent heterogeneity of pentraxin expression during the vertebrate AP response supports the possibility that its most important ancestral (and perhaps present) function is not related to its AP behavior.