Neurons synthesizing dopamine (DA) are widely distributed in the brain and implicated in a tremendous number of physiological and behavioral functions, including socioreproductive behaviors in rodents. We have recently been investigating the possible involvement of sex- and species-specific TH-immunoreactive (TH-ir) cells in the male prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) principal bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBST) and posterodorsal medial amygdala (MeApd) in the chemosensory control of their monogamous pairbonding and parenting behaviors. These TH-ir cells are not immunoreactive for dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH), suggesting they are not noradrenergic but possibly DAergic. A DAergic phenotype would require them to contain aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) and here we examined the existence of cells immunoreactive for both TH and AADC in the pBST and MeApd of adult virgin male and female prairie voles. We also investigated the presence of TH/AADC cells in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV), medial preoptic area (MPO), arcuate nucleus (ARH), zona incerta (ZI), substantia nigra (SN) and ventral tegmental area (VTA). Among our findings were: (1) the pBST and MeApd each contained completely non-overlapping distributions of TH-ir and AADC-ir cells, (2) the AVPV contained surprisingly few AADC-ir cells and almost no TH-ir cells contained AADC-ir, (3) approximately 60% of the TH-ir cells in the MPO, ARH, and ZI also contained AADC-ir, (4) unexpectedly, only about half of TH-ir cells in the SN and VTA contained AADC-ir, and (5) notable populations of AADC-ir cells were found outside traditional monoamine-synthesizing regions, including some sites that do not contain AADC-ir cells in adult laboratory rats or cats (medial septum and cerebral cortex). In the absence of the chemical requirements to produce DA, monoenzymatic TH-ir cells in the virgin adult prairie vole pBST, MeApd, and elsewhere in their brain may instead produce L-DOPA as an end product and use it as a neurotransmitter or neuromodulator, similar to what has been observed for monoenzymatic TH-synthesizing cells in the laboratory rat brain.
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