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J Comp Neurol. 2002 Jan 7;442(2):115-29.

Distribution and development of dopamine- and octopamine-synthesizing neurons in the medicinal leech.

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Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.


Although the medicinal leech is a well-studied system in which many neurons and circuits have been identified with precision, descriptions of the distributions of some of the major biogenic amines, such as dopamine (DA) and octopamine (OA), have yet to be completed. In the European medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis and the American medicinal leech Macrobdella decora,we have presented the first immunohistochemical study of DA neurons in the entire central nervous system, and of OA-immunoreactive (ir) neurons in the head and tail brains. Dopaminergic neurons were identified using the glyoxylic acid method and antisera to DA and its rate-limiting synthetic enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Octopaminergic neurons were recognized using a highly specific antiserum raised against OA. An antibody raised against DA-beta-hydroxylase (DbetaH), the mammalian enzyme that converts DA to norepinephrine (NE), was found to immunostain OA-ir neurons. This antibody appears to cross-react with the closely related invertebrate enzyme tyramine-beta-hydroxylase, which converts tyramine to OA, suggesting that the OA-ir cells are indeed octopaminergic, capable of synthesizing OA. Because the DbetaH antiserum selectively immunostained the OA-ir neurons, but not the DA-synthesizing cells, our results also indicate that the DA-ir neurons synthesize DA and not NE as their end product. The expression of TH immunoreactivity was found to emerge relatively early in development, on embryonic day 9 (47-48% of development). In contrast, OA expression remained absent as late as embryonic day 20. Higher order processes of some of the dopaminergic and octopaminergic neurons in the adult brain were observed to project to a region previously described as a neurohemal complex. Several TH-ir processes were also seen in the stomatogastric nerve ring, suggesting that DA may play a role in the regulation of biting behavior. By mapping the distributions and developmental expression pattern of DA and OA neurons in the leech, we aim to gain a better understanding of the functional roles of aminergic neurons and how they influence behavior.

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