Adrenergic and noradrenergic neural projections to the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) contribute importantly to viscerosensory modulation of pituitary hormone secretion. Immaturity of ascending catecholamine pathways may partially underlie the documented hyporesponsiveness of PVN neurosecretory cells to certain interoceptive stimuli in rats during the first few weeks of postnatal development. To explore this possibility, the present study compared the distribution and number of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH)- and phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT)-positive neurons projecting to the PVN in newborn and adult rats. In addition, a quantitative analysis of DBH- and PNMT-immunoreactive fibers in the medial parvocellular subnucleus, dorsal division (PVNmpd) and posterior magnocellular subnucleus, lateral division (PVNpml) was performed in adult rats and in developing rats on postnatal day (P)1, P7, P14, and P21. The numbers of PVN-projecting neurons in the A1, C1, A2/C2, C3, or A6 catecholamine cell groups were similar in newborn and adult rats, as were the proportions of PVN-projecting neurons in each region that were PNMT-positive. However, fewer PVN-projecting neurons in the C1 and C3 regions expressed DBH immunolabeling in newborn rats compared to adults. DBH immunolabeling increased progressively in the PVNmpd and PVNpml between postnatal days P1 and P21, when adult-like levels were achieved. Conversely, PNMT immunolabeling in the same PVN subdivisions was most dense at P1, gradually decreasing to adult-like levels by P21. These dynamic developmental changes in catecholamine synthetic enzyme immunolabeling densities in the PVN may reflect functional changes in noradrenergic and adrenergic signaling capacity in rats during the first few weeks of postnatal development.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.