Expression of trkB and trkC mRNAs by adult midbrain dopamine neurons: a double-label in situ hybridization study

J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jan 18;403(3):295-308. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-9861(19990118)403:3<295::aid-cne2>;2-l.


The documented trophic actions of the neurotrophins brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), and neurotrophin-4/5 (NT-4/5) upon ventral mesencephalic dopamine neurons in vitro and in vivo are presumed to be mediated through interactions with their high-affinity receptors TrkB (for BDNF and NT-4/5) and TrkC (for NT-3). Although both neurotrophin receptor mRNAs have been detected within the rat ventral midbrain, their specific association with mesencephalic dopaminergic cell bodies remains to be elucidated. The present study was performed to determine the precise organization of trkB and trkC mRNAs within rat ventral midbrain and to discern whether the neurotrophin receptor mRNAs are expressed specifically by dopaminergic neurons. In situ hybridization with isotopically labeled cRNA probes showed that trkB and trkC mRNAs were expressed in all mesencephalic dopamine cell groups, including all subdivisions of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area, and in the retrorubral field, rostral and caudal linear raphe nuclei, interfascicular nucleus, and supramammillary region. Combined isotopic/nonisotopic double-labeling in situ hybridization demonstrated that virtually all of the tyrosine hydroxylase (the catecholamine biosynthetic enzyme) mRNA-containing neurons in the ventral midbrain also expressed trkB or trkC mRNAs. Additional perikarya within these regions expressed the neurotrophin receptor mRNAs but were not dopaminergic. The present results demonstrate that essentially all mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons synthesize the neurotrophin receptors TrkB and TrkC and thus exhibit the capacity to respond directly to BDNF and NT-3 in the adult midbrain in vivo. Moreover, because BDNF and NT-3 are produced locally by subpopulations of the dopaminergic cells, the present data support the notion that the neurotrophins can influence the dopaminergic neurons through autocrine or paracrine mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Female
  • In Situ Hybridization / methods
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Receptor, Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptor, trkC
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / genetics*
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptor, Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor, trkC
  • Dopamine