Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is a survival factor for several types of neurons, including dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons. GDNF binds with high affinity to the GDNF family receptor alpha-1 (GFRalpha-1), which is highly expressed in the midbrain. Using anatomical and lesion techniques, we demonstrated that GFRalpha-1 was expressed in DAergic and non-DAergic neurons in the rat midbrain. Immunohistochemical characterization of GFRalpha-1-expressing neurons indicated that most of the neurons that were immunopositive for the DAergic marker tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expressed GFRalpha-1 in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC). In contrast, fewer TH-containing neurons expressed GFRalpha-1 in the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNR) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Depletion of GFRalpha-1/TH neurons was observed in the SNC following treatment with the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA); however, GFRalpha-1 expression remained in some neurons located in the SNR. The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic nature of GFRalpha-1-expressing neurons located in the SNR, which were resistant to (6-hydroxydopamine) 6-OHDA, was established by their expression of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD; the synthesizing enzyme for GABA). Further analysis indicated that coexpression of GFRalpha-1 and GAD varied in a rostrocaudal gradient in the SNR, substantia nigra pars lateralis (SNL), and VTA. Midbrain DAergic and GABAergic neurons have been previously classified according to their Ca(2+) binding protein (CaBP) content; thus, we also sought to investigate the proportion of midbrain GFRalpha-1-expressing neurons containing parvalbumin (PV), calbindin (CB), and calretinin (CR) in the midbrain. Although GFRalpha-1 expression was found mainly in CB- and CR-immunoreactive neurons, it was rarely observed in PV-immunolabeled neurons. Analysis of the proportion of GFRalpha-1-expressing neurons for each CaBP subpopulation indicated the coexistence of GFRalpha-1 with CR in the VTA and all subdivisions of the SN; double-labeled GFRalpha-1/CR neurons were distributed in the SNC, SNR, SNL, and VTA. GFRalpha-1/CB neurons were also detected in the SNC, SNL, and VTA. Expression of GFRalpha-1 in DAergic and non-DAergic neurons in the rat SN and VTA suggests that GDNF, via GFRalpha-1, might modulate DAergic and GABAergic functions in the nigrostriatal, mesolimbic, and nigrothalamic circuits of the adult rat.
Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.