Comparison of firing patterns in oxytocin- and vasopressin-releasing neurones during progressive dehydration

Brain Res. 1978 Jun 16;148(2):425-40. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(78)90730-8.


The electrical activity of neurosecretory cells in the supraoptic nucleus of the urethane-anaesthetized lactating rat was examined after periods of water deprivation ranging from 0-24 h. Supraoptic units were identified by antidromic activation following stimulation of the neurohypophysis, and classified as oxytocin or vasopressin cells according to their response during reflex milk ejection. In 65 vasopressin cells, dehydration increased the mean firing rate from 2.1 spikes/sec at 0 h to 6.8 spikes/sec at 24 h and caused a change from a slow irregular to a phasic firing pattern. Thus, after 6 h or more of dehydration, 84-100% of the vasopressin cells fired phasically, compared to 12% under normal conditions. In phasic vasopressin cells , the intraburst firing rates were closely related to the stages of dehydration, rising from a mean of 6.3 spikes/sec at 6 h to 12.0 spikes/sec at 24 h. However, no systematic relationship was observed between the stages of dehydration and the mean burst or silence durations. In 77 identified oxytocin units, dehydration increased the firing rate from 0.9 spikes/sec to 2.8 spikes/sec after 24 h, but only 3 (4%) of the cells showed phasic firing. Instead, the oxytocin units changed from a slow irregular to a fast continuous discharge. In conclusion, both vasopressin and oxytocin neurones are activated during chronic dehydration, but there is a marked difference in the pattern of their response. The phasic firing of the vasopressin cells may be important in increasing the occurrence of short interspike intervals and thus facilitating hormone release.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Lactation
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Pituitary Gland, Posterior / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / cytology
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Vasopressins / metabolism*
  • Water Deprivation*


  • Vasopressins
  • Oxytocin