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Brain Res. 2009 Jan 9;1247:79-91. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.09.094. Epub 2008 Oct 15.

Proximal colon distension induces Fos expression in oxytocin-, vasopressin-, CRF- and catecholamines-containing neurons in rat brain.

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  • 1CURE: Digestive Diseases Research Center and Center for Neurobiological Stress, Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Los Angeles, California, USA.


Little is known about the chemical coding of the brain neuronal circuitry activated by nociceptive signals of visceral origin. We characterized brain nuclei activated during isovolumetric phasic distension of the proximal colon (10 ml, 30 s on/off for 10 min) in conscious male rats, using Fos as a marker of neuronal activation and dual immunohistochemistry to visualize co-localization of Fos expression and oxytocin (OT), arginine-vasopressin (AVP), corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) or tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Proximal colon distension, compared with sham distension, induced a robust increase in Fos-like immunoreactive (IR) neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), supraoptic nucleus (SON) and accessory neurosecretory nuclei of the hypothalamus, nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) and ventrolateral medulla (VLM), and to a lower extent, in the locus coeruleus (LC) and Barrington nucleus. Fos-IR neurons in the PVN after colon distension were identified in 81% of OT-IR, 18% AVP-IR and 16% CRF-IR neurons, while in the SON it represented 36% of OT-IR and 16% AVP-IR. Catecholaminergic cell groups in the pons (LC) and medulla (VLM, NTS) were also activated by proximal colon distension. Of the TH-IR neurons in VLM and NTS, 74% and 42% respectively were double labeled. These results indicate that colon distension stimulates OT-, AVP- and CRF-containing hypothalamic neurons, likely involved in the integration of colonic sensory information to modulate autonomic outflow and pain-related responses. Activation of medullary catecholaminergic centers might reflect the afferent and efferent limbs of the functional responses associated to visceral pain.

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