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Front Neuroendocrinol. 2002 Jan;23(1):101-35.

Oxytocin-secreting neurons: A physiological model of morphological neuronal and glial plasticity in the adult hypothalamus.

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INSERM U378 Neuroendocrinologie Morphofonctionelle, Institut Fran├žois Magendie, Bordeaux, France.


Oxytocin-secreting neurons of the hypothalamoneurohypophysial system undergo reversible morphological changes whenever they are strongly stimulated. In the hypothalamus, such structural plasticity is represented by modifications in the size and shape of their somata and dendrites, in the extent to which their surfaces are covered by glia, and in the density of their synapses. In the neurohypophysis, there is a parallel reduction in glial (pituicyte) coverage of their axons together, with retraction of pituicyte processes from the perivascular basal lamina and an increase in the number and size of their terminals. These changes occur rapidly, within a few hours. On the other hand, the system returns to its prestimulated condition on arrest of stimulation at a rate that depends on the length of time it has remained activated. Such neuronal-glial changes have several functional consequences. In the hypothalamic nuclei, reduction in astrocytic coverage of oxytocinergic neurons and their synapses modifies extracellular ionic homeostasis and glutamate clearance and, therefore, their overall excitability. Since it results in extensive dendritic bundling, it may also lead to ephaptic interactions and may facilitate dendritic electrotonic coupling. A most important indirect effect may be to permit synaptic remodeling that occurs concomitantly and that results in significant increases in the number of excitatory and inhibitory synapses driving their activity. In the stimulated neurohypophysis, glial retraction results in increased levels of extracellular K+ which can enhance neurohormone release while an enlarged neurovascular contact zone may facilitate diffusion of neurohormone into the circulation. Ongoing work aims to unravel the cell mechanisms and factors underlying such plasticity and has revealed that neurons and glia of the hypothalamoneurohypophysial system continue to express juvenile molecular features associated with similar neuronglial interactions and synaptic events during development and regeneration. They include strong expression of cell surface adhesion molecules like F3/contactin and polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule, extracellular matrix glycoproteins like tenascin C, and cytoskeletal proteins like vimentin and microtubule-associated protein 1D. Some of these molecules reach the cell surface constitutively while others follow the activity-dependent regulated pathway. We consider many of these molecular features permissive, allowing oxytocin neurons and their glia to undergo morphological remodeling throughout life, provided the proper stimulus intervenes. In the hypothalamic nuclei, one such stimulus is centrally released oxytocin; in the neurohypophysis, an adrenergic, cAMP-mediated mechanism appears responsible.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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