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J Neurosci Res. 1988 Oct-Dec;21(2-4):365-75.

Development of cholinergic pedunculopontine neurons in vitro: comparison with cholinergic septal cells and response to nerve growth factor, ciliary neuronotrophic factor, and retinoic acid.

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  • 1Dept. of Neurology, University of Miami, FL 33101.


The well-documented role of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the function of cholinergic neurons in the mammalian basal forebrain can be regarded as a paradigm for the action of trophic substances on CNS neurons. Although several growth factors have been identified in recent years, the specificities and importance of such factors for the development of the nervous system are still unknown. In the present study it has been tested whether NGF affects the group of pedunculopontine cholinergic neurons. This population, which has been described in detail only recently, is located more caudally than but resembles, in some aspects, the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons. The cell bodies are located in the metencephalic pedunculopontine and dorsolateral tegmental nuclei. Similar to the forebrain cholinergic neurons, they are medium to large in size and ascend centrally with long axons. Projection areas are widespread throughout the mesencephalon and diencephalon. Dissociated pontine and septal cells of fetal rat brain (embryo ages E14 to E17) were grown in culture for 7 to 14 days in the presence or absence of NGF. Furthermore, a possible action of retinoic acid and ciliary neuronotrophic factor (CNTF) on cholinergic neurons of both the basal forebrain and the pontine area were tested. Differentiation of cultured cholinergic neurons was assessed by biochemical determination of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) activity and by immunocytochemical staining for ChAT. NGF in concentrations of 1 to 1,000 ng/ml medium increased the number of immunostained cells and the staining intensity in ChAT immunocytochemistry and enhanced ChAT activity by at least 100% above control levels in septal cultures, thus confirming earlier results. In marked contrast, the same concentrations of NGF failed to influence ChAT activity or immunocytochemical staining in cultures of the pontine area. Retinoic acid (10(-8) M to 10(-5) M) and CNTF (0.2 and 2.0 ng/ml, corresponding to 1 and 10 trophic units, as defined in the ciliary ganglion cell assay) failed to enhance ChAT activity in either culture system and did not potentiate the NGF-mediated increase of ChAT activity in septal cultures. Our results, which indicate that pedunculopontine cholinergic neurons do not respond to NGF during development, are in line with those of NGF-receptor visualization studies that failed to demonstrate such receptors on cholinergic pontine cells in postnatal and adult rats. The findings further underline the specificity of NGF action in the central nervous system and, in particular, do not support the idea of transmitter-specific neurotrophic factors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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