Magnocellular neurons located in the supraoptic nucleus send their principal axons to terminate in the neurohypophysis, where they release vasopressin and oxytocin into the blood circulation. This magnocellular hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system is known to undergo dramatic activity-dependent structural plasticity during chronic physiological stimulation, such as dehydration and lactation. This structural plasticity is accompanied not only by synaptic remodeling, increased direct neuronal membrane apposition, and dendritic bundling in the supraoptic nucleus, but also organization of neurovascular contacts in the neurohypophysis. The adjacent glial cells actively participate in these plastic changes in addition to magnocellular neurons themselves. Many molecules that are possibly concerned with dynamic structural remodeling are highly expressed in the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system, although they are generally at low expression levels in other regions of adult brains. Interestingly, some of them are highly expressed only in embryonic brains. On the basis of function, these molecules are classified mainly into two categories. Cytoskeletal proteins, such as tubulin, microtubule-associated proteins, and intermediate filament proteins, are responsible for changing both glial and neuronal morphology and location. Cell adhesion molecules, belonging to immunoglobulin superfamily proteins and extracellular matrix glycoproteins, also participate in neuronal-glial, neuronal-neuronal, and glial-glial recognition and guidance. Thus, the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system is an interesting model for elucidating physiological significance and molecular mechanisms of activity-dependent structural plasticity in adult brains.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.