Chronic hypoosmolality induces a selective decrease in magnocellular neurone soma and nuclear size in the rat hypothalamic supraoptic nucleus

J Neuroendocrinol. 2001 Jan;13(1):29-36. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2826.2001.00593.x.


The magnocellular neurones of the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system (HNS) play a vital role in the maintenance of body homeostasis by regulating oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (VP) secretion from the posterior pituitary. During hyperosmolality, OT and VP mRNA levels are known to increase by approximately two-fold, whereas during chronic hypoosmolality, OT and VP mRNA levels decrease to approximately 10-20% of basal levels. In these studies, we evaluated changes in cell size associated with these physiological conditions. Cell and nuclear sizes of neurones in the supraoptic nucleus (SON), the nucleus of the lateral olfactory tract (LOT) and the medial habenular nucleus (MHB) were measured from neurones identified by in situ hybridization histochemistry for beta(III)-tubulin mRNA, and measurements were made from OT and AVP magnocellular neurones in the SON after phenotypic identification by immunohistochemistry. Under hypoosmolar conditions, the cell and nuclear sizes of OT and VP magnocellular neurones decreased to approximately 60% of basal values, whereas cell and nuclear sizes of OT and VP neurones in hyperosmolar rats increased to approximately 170% of basal values. In contrast, neither hyperosmolality, nor hypoosmolality significantly affected cell and nuclear sizes in the LOT and MHB. These results confirm previous studies that showed that magnocellular neurones increase cell size in response to hyperosmolar conditions and, for the first time, demonstrate a marked decrease in cell size in the SON in response to chronic hypoosmolar conditions. These dramatic changes in cell and nuclear size directly parallel changes in OT and VP gene expression in the magnocellular neurones of the SON and, consequently, are consistent with the pronounced bidirectional changes in gene expression and cellular activity found during these osmotic perturbations. Our results therefore support the concept of global alterations in the synthetic activity of magnocellular OT and AVP neurones in response to extracellular osmolality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Size / physiology
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Habenula / cytology
  • Habenula / physiology
  • Hyponatremia / pathology*
  • Hyponatremia / physiopathology*
  • Hypothalamus, Anterior / cytology*
  • Hypothalamus, Anterior / physiology*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Male
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Oxytocin / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology
  • Vasopressins / genetics
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vasopressins
  • Oxytocin