Immunohistochemical-labeling for the neurochemicals gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and enkephalin are abundant in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN). In VMN, both GABA and enkephalin may function to regulate feeding behavior, as well as other hormone-controlled behaviors. Importantly, in several brain areas, enkephalin is often thought to modulate GABAergic neurotransmission. Therefore, we used dual-labeling immunohistochemistry with electron microscopic analysis to study the circuitry of neurons containing GABA- and/or enkephalin-labeling within the VMN. Somato-dendritic profiles containing GABA-labeling were three fold more abundant than GABA-labeled axon terminals (117 soma or dendrites vs. 34 axons). In addition, axon terminals containing GABA-labeling sometimes synapsed onto GABA-labeled somata or dendrites (25% or 9/34). In contrast, under these conditions labeling for enkephalin was primarily restricted to axon terminals, which were very abundant throughout VMN. Enkephalin-containing terminals accounted for a large fraction (25% 23/92) of the axons in contact with GABA-labeled dendrites, although they also contacted unlabeled dendrites. These observations suggest that a population of VMN neurons are GABAergic. These may be either local circuit 'interneurons' or projection neurons. In addition, GABA-labeled VMN neurons may be regulated by either enkephalin or GABA. These morphologic observations provide the basis for disinhibitory mechanisms to function within the VMN.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.