Partial expression of catecholaminergic traits in cholinergic chick ciliary ganglia: studies in vivo and in vitro

Dev Biol. 1985 Aug;110(2):402-12. doi: 10.1016/0012-1606(85)90099-5.


We have previously demonstrated that at embryonic Day (E) 8, some cells of the chick ciliary ganglion (CG) contain the catecholaminergic (CA) enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), but not phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT); and that in culture essentially all cells express both enzymes. In the present study, we sought to determine, first, whether the expression of adrenergic traits in the CG in vivo is transient or permanent in the CG. To do so, CGs were removed from E5 to postnatal Day 5, fixed, and processed for the immunocytochemical localization of the CA enzymes: TH, L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC), and PNMT. At all stages examined, some CG neurons expressed TH immunoreactivity (TH-IR) and all contained AADC-IR. However, none stained with PNMT antibodies, indicating that these cells stably express some, but not all, of the CA enzymes. Second, we examined whether CG neurons in culture expressed other CA markers. CG neurons did not contain detectable levels of TH enzyme activity nor did they transport and store exogenously supplied monoamines. These results indicate that some but not all traits necessary for adrenergic function are present in CG neurons in vitro. Third, we sought to establish whether CA expression in CG neurons is affected by modification in culture conditions. Cultures of CG neurons continued to express TH-IR even when grown in the presence of either 50% HCM or 20 mM KCl for 5 days. Finally, the expression of the cholinergic enzyme, choline acetyltransferase (CAT) was assessed in CG cultures by biochemical assay. CAT activity increased five-fold between 5 and 17 days in vitro, irrespective of the presence of TH-IR in 100% of the CG neurons of sister cultures. These data suggest that at least a subpopulation of CG neurons express both TH and CAT in culture. We conclude that the postmitotic neurons of the CG are able to express some but not all of the traits characteristic of a CA phenotype while maintaining cholinergic expression. These findings suggest that (1) the appearance of the full complement of adrenergic properties is not coordinated and may be regulated by different environmental cues and (2) parasympathetic neurons can express both adrenergic and cholinergic traits simultaneously.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / physiology*
  • Chick Embryo / metabolism
  • Chick Embryo / physiology*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Culture Techniques
  • Ganglia, Parasympathetic / embryology*
  • Ganglia, Parasympathetic / physiology
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Catecholamines
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase