Target-dependent synaptogenesis: inductive effect of pituitary melanotrophs on their central innervation

Synapse. 1997 Dec;27(4):267-77. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2396(199712)27:4<267::AID-SYN1>3.0.CO;2-A.


The glandular activity of the vertebrate pituitary intermediate lobe (IL) is regulated by direct cellular innervation, in contrast with the purely humoral regulation of adjacent pituitary anterior lobe (AL). Thus in the rat IL, melanotrophs receive a dopaminergic and GABAergic innervation from the basal hypothalamus, which tonically inhibit their glandular activity. We studied this model of neuron-target interactions in cocultures in defined medium of fetal hypothalamic neurons with neonate pituitary glandular cells. In the cocultures with IL cells, neuroglandular contacts occurred after 4 days in vitro (DIV) but required another 8 DIV to exhibit ultrastructural and immunocytochemical features of fully differentiated functional synapses; by contrast, neuroneuronal synapses developed much faster and could already be detected after 4 DIV. In the cocultures with AL cells, neuroglandular contacts never mature in differentiated synapses. Confocal microscope observation revealed that dopaminergic neurons, which represented less than 1% of total neurons in the cocultures, established 50% of the synapses detected on the melanotrophs. These cells are thus able, contrary to the AL cells, to promote the establishment of functional synapses and, to some extent, to select their specific innervation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis
  • Pituitary Gland / cytology
  • Pituitary Gland / innervation*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins