Distribution and morphology of the catecholaminergic neural elements in the human hypothalamus

Dudas, B.; Baker, M.; Rotoli, G.; Grignol, G.; Bohn, M. C.; Merchenthaler, I.

Neuroscience. 2010 Aug 31; 171(1):187-95


Previous studies have demonstrated that catecholaminergic, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-immunoreactive (IR) perikarya and fibers are widely distributed in the human hypothalamus. Since TH is the key and rate-limiting enzyme for catecholaminergic synthesis, these IR neurons may represent dopaminergic, noradrenergic or adrenergic neural elements. However, the distribution and morphology of these neurotransmitter systems in the human hypothalamus is not entirely known. Since the different catecholaminergic systems can be detected by identifying the neurons containing the specific key enzymes of catecholaminergic synthesis, in the present study we mapped the catecholaminergic elements in the human hypothalamus using immunohistochemistry against the catecholaminergic enzymes, TH, dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH) and phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT). Only a few, PNMT-IR, adrenergic neuronal elements were found mainly in the infundibulum and the periventricular zone. DBH-IR structures were more widely distributed in the human hypothalamus occupying chiefly the infundibulum/infundibular nucleus, periventricular area, supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei. Dopaminergic elements were detected by utilizing double label immunohistochemistry. First, the DBH-IR elements were visualized; then the TH-IR structures, that lack DBH, were detected with a different chromogen. In our study, we conclude that all of the catecholaminergic perikarya and the majority of the catecholaminergic fibers represent dopaminergic neurons in the human hypothalamus. Due to the extremely small number of PNMT-IR, adrenergic structures in the human hypothalamus, the DBH-IR fibers represent almost exclusively noradrenergic neuronal processes. These findings suggest that the juxtapositions between the TH-IR and numerous peptidergic systems revealed by previous reports indicate mostly dopaminergic synapses.

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