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Brain Behav Evol. 2006;68(4):197-217. Epub 2006 Jun 30.

The hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the echidna and platypus.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


The monotremes are an intriguing group of mammals that have major differences in their reproductive physiology and lactation from therian mammals. Monotreme young hatch from leathery skinned eggs and are nourished by milk secreted onto areolae rather than through nipples. Parturition and lactation are in part controlled through the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei of the hypothalamus. We have used Nissl staining, enzyme histochemistry, immunohistochemistry for tyrosine hydroxylase, calbindin, oxytocin, neurophysin and non-phosphorylated neurofilament protein, and carbocyanine dye tracing techniques to examine the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and the course of the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial tract in two monotremes: the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) and the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). In both monotremes, the supraoptic nucleus consisted of loosely packed neurons, mainly in the retrochiasmatic position. In the echidna, the paraventricular nucleus was quite small, but had similar chemoarchitectural features to therians. In the platypus, the paraventricular nucleus was larger and appeared to be part of a stream of magnocellular neurons extending from the paraventricular nucleus to the retrochiasmatic supraoptic nucleus. Immunohistochemistry for non-phosphorylated neurofilament protein and carbocyanine dye tracing suggested that hypothalamo-neurohypophysial tract neurons in the echidna lie mainly in the retrochiasmatic supraoptic and lateral hypothalamic regions, but most neurophysin and oxytocin immunoreactive neurons in the echidna were found in the paraventricular, lateral hypothalamus and supraoptic nuclei and most oxytocinergic neurons in the platypus were distributed in a band from the paraventricular nucleus to the retrochiasmatic supraoptic nucleus. The small size of the supraoptic nucleus in the two monotremes might reflect functional aspects of monotreme lactation.

Copyright (c) 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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