, Volume 26, Issue 4-6, pp 657-676
Date: 31 May 2006

Three Types of Tyrosine Hydroxylase-Positive CNS Neurons Distinguished by Dopa Decarboxylase and VMAT2 Co-Expression

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1. We investigate here for the first time in primate brain the combinatorial expression of the three major functionally relevant proteins for catecholaminergic neurotransmission tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), aromatic acid acid decarboxylase (AADC), and the brain-specific isoform of the vesicular monoamine transporter, VMAT2, using highly specific antibodies and immunofluorescence with confocal microscopy to visualize combinatorial expression of these proteins.

2. In addition to classical TH, AADC, and VMAT2-copositive catecholaminergic neurons, two unique kinds of TH-positive neurons were identified based on co-expression of AADC and VMAT2.

3. TH and AADC co-positive, but VMAT2-negative neurons, are termed “nonexocytotic catecholaminergic TH neurons.” These were found in striatum, olfactory bulb, cerebral cortex, area postrema, nucleus tractus solitarius, and in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus.

4. TH-positive neurons expressing neither AADC nor VMAT2 are termed “dopaergic TH neurons.” We identified these neurons in supraoptic, paraventricular and periventricular hypothalamic nuclei, thalamic paraventicular nucleus, habenula, parabrachial nucleus, cerebral cortex and spinal cord. We were unable to identify any dopaergic (TH-positive, AADC-negative) neurons that expressed VMAT2, suggesting that regulatory mechanisms exist for shutting off VMAT2 expression in neurons that fail to biosynthesize its substrates.

5. In several cases, the corresponding TH phenotypes were identified in the adult rat, suggesting that this rodent is an appropriate experimental model for further investigation of these TH-positive neuronal cell groups in the adult central nervous system. Thus, no examples of TH and VMAT2 co-positive neurons lacking AADC expression were found in rodent adult nervous system.

6. In conclusion, the adult mammalian nervous system contains in addition to classical catecholaminergic neurons, cells that can synthesize dopamine, but cannot transport and store it in synaptic vesicles, and neurons that can synthesize only L-dopa and lack VMAT2 expression. The presence of these additional populations of TH-positive neurons in the adult primate CNS has implications for functional catecholamine neurotransmission, its derangement in disease and drug abuse, and its rescue by gene therapeutic maneuvers in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease.