Selective effects of DSP-4 on locus coeruleus axons: are there pharmacologically different types of noradrenergic axons in the central nervous system?

Prog Brain Res. 1991:88:257-68. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6123(08)63815-7.


There is considerable evidence from biochemical studies that the transmitter-depleting action of drugs and neurotoxins which act upon central noradrenergic (NA) axon terminals is not uniform in different brain regions. Among NA axons, those originating in the locus coeruleus (LC) have been proposed to be most susceptible to the action of NA neurotoxins such as N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine (DSP-4). The studies described here were conducted to determine whether this differential susceptibility to DSP-4 reflects a pharmacological heterogeneity between different populations of NA axons. To determine whether DSP-4 acts selectively upon LC axons, we have characterized the effects of this drug on NA axons in different brain regions, by using noradrenaline and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (D beta H) immunohistochemistry. Following systemic administration of DSP-4, there was an almost complete loss of noradrenaline and D beta H staining in brain regions innervated by LC axons. No effects of the drug treatment were detected in brain regions innervated primarily by non-coerulean NA axons. These results demonstrate that both the transmitter-depleting and the neurodegenerative action of DSP-4 are restricted to NA axons originating in the LC. To explore the basis for this selectivity, noradrenaline uptake studies were conducted using synaptosomes from brain regions in which NA axons differ in their response to DSP-4. The results reveal a significant difference in the affinity of DSP-4 for the noradrenaline uptake carrier in cortical and hypothalamic synaptosomes. This finding is compatible with the hypothesis that the noradrenaline uptake carrier is pharmacologically distinct in LC and non-coerulean NA axons. This heterogeneity in noradrenaline uptake raises the question whether other drugs may also have differential actions on LC and non-coerulean NA neurons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Adrenergic Agents / toxicity
  • Adrenergic Fibers / drug effects*
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Benzylamines / pharmacology*
  • Benzylamines / toxicity
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / analysis
  • Drug Resistance
  • Hypothalamus / cytology
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Locus Coeruleus / drug effects*
  • Nerve Degeneration / drug effects
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / toxicity
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Oxidopamine / toxicity
  • Synaptosomes / drug effects
  • Synaptosomes / metabolism


  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Benzylamines
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors
  • Oxidopamine
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase
  • DSP 4
  • Norepinephrine