Silvering (transition from yellow to silver eel) has been traditionally considered as a metamorphosis in view of the numerous morphological, physiological and behavioral changes preparing the eel for the oceanic migration. However, some changes, such as increases in gonad weight and steroidogenesis, suggest that silvering could also be considered as a pubertal event. In order to assess which endocrine axis may be involved in the induction of silvering, we compared the profiles of pituitary and peripheral hormones during the transition from yellow to silver female eels. A strong activation of the gonadotropic axis was shown during silvering. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) mRNA levels increased during the early stages of silvering, followed by a later increase in luteinizing hormone (protein and mRNA) levels. In addition, plasma levels of sexual steroids (estradiol, E2; testosterone, T, and 11-ketotestosterone) and of vitellogenin significantly increased. In contrast, thyrotropin mRNA levels did not change and no or weak variations in plasma thyroid hormones were observed, indicating no or moderate change of the thyrotropic axis during silvering. Similarly, the somatotropic axis was not activated, as shown by pituitary growth hormone expression (protein and mRNA) and plasma levels. In addition, we studied the effects of chronic treatments of female yellow eels with thyroid hormone (thyroxine, T4) and sex steroids (T and E2) on biometrical parameters characteristics of silvering. T induced an increase in eye size and a reduction of digestive tract, whereas T4 and E2 had no effect. These hormonal profiles and experimental data lead to the conclusion that eel silvering should be considered as an onset of puberty rather than a 'genuine' metamorphosis.