Cellular interactions between axon terminals containing endogenous opioid peptides or corticotropin-releasing factor in the rat locus coeruleus and surrounding dorsal pontine tegmentum

J Comp Neurol. 2003 Nov 24;466(4):445-56. doi: 10.1002/cne.10893.


Recent evidence suggests that certain stressors release both endogenous opioids and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) to modulate activity of the locus coeruleus (LC)-norepinephrine (NE) system. In ultrastructural studies, axon terminals containing methionine(5)-enkephalin (ENK) or CRF have been shown to target LC dendrites. These findings suggested the hypothesis that both neuropeptides may coexist in common axon terminals that are positioned to have an impact on the LC. This possibility was examined by using immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopic analysis of the rat LC and neighboring dorsal pontine tegmentum. Ultrastructural analysis indicated that CRF- and ENK-containing axon terminals were abundant in similar portions of the neuropil and that approximately 16% of the axon terminals containing ENK were also immunoreactive for CRF. Dually labeled terminals were more frequently encountered in the "core" of the LC vs. its extranuclear dendritic zone, which included the medial parabrachial nucleus (mPB). Triple labeling for ENK, CRF, and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) showed convergence of opioid and CRF axon terminals with noradrenergic dendrites as well as evidence for inputs to TH-labeled dendrites from dually labeled opioid/CRF axon terminals. One potential source of ENK and CRF in the dorsal pons is the central nucleus of the amygdala (CNA). To determine the relative contribution of ENK and CRF terminals from the CNA, the CNA was electrolytically lesioned. Light-level densitometry revealed robust decreases in CRF immunoreactivity in the LC and mPB on the side ipsilateral to the lesion but little or no change in ENK immunoreactivity, confirming previous studies of the mPB. Degenerating terminals from the CNA in lesioned rats were found to be in direct contact with TH-labeled dendrites. Together, these data indicate that ENK and CRF may be colocalized to a subset of individual axon terminals in the LC "core." The finding that the CNA provides, to dendrites in the area examined, a robust CRF innervation, but little or no opioid innervation, suggests that ENK and CRF axon terminals impacting LC neurons originate from distinct sources and that terminals that colocalize ENK and CRF are not from the CNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / injuries
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Amygdala / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Functional Laterality
  • Locus Coeruleus / cytology
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology*
  • Locus Coeruleus / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Opioid Peptides / metabolism*
  • Pons / cytology
  • Pons / physiology*
  • Pons / ultrastructure
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Opioid Peptides
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone