It has been demonstrated that pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) promotes the survival of neurons in culture and can inhibit neuronal cell death after experimental injury. Furthermore, peripheral axotomy results in increased PACAP gene expression in sensory and sympathetic neurons, suggesting that PACAP might be a mediator in the injury response in certain parts of the nervous system. However, changes in PACAP expression have not been reported in injured motor neurons, despite the significant problem of motor neuron degeneration in injury and in several neurological diseases. We examined here changes in gene expression of PACAP and two high-affinity PACAP receptors, PAC(1) and VPAC(2), in adult rat motor neurons after facial nerve axotomy by in situ hybridization. PACAP gene expression was very low in facial motor neurons of normal rats. However, a robust time-dependent increase in PACAP mRNA was observed in the facial motor nucleus in most or all axotomized motor neurons. This induction was detectable 6 hr after axotomy, and peaked at 48 hr, when expression on the injured side averaged more than 20-fold higher than that on the contralateral side. Thereafter, PACAP mRNA levels decreased slightly, but remained more than 10-fold elevated for as long as 30 days after axotomy. In contrast to PACAP, gene expression for both the PAC(1) and VPAC(2) receptor was high in facial motor neurons of normal rats. No significant change was observed for VPAC(2) receptor gene expression in facial motor neurons after axotomy, whereas gene expression for the PAC(1) receptor became significantly decreased. The results indicate that the PACAP ligand receptor system is tightly regulated in the facial motor nucleus after axotomy, providing evidence that PACAP may be involved in motor injury responses.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.