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J Comp Neurol. 1989 Sep 15;287(3):357-72.

Quantitation of catecholamine neurons in the locus coeruleus in human brains of normal young and older adults and in depression.

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  • 1Neurology Clinic, University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland.


A quantitative study of the morphology and distribution of norepinephrinergic neurons in the human locus coeruleus (LC) is given for normal young and older adult brain. Norepinephrine (NE)-producing neurons are identified by immunocytochemistry of two NE biosynthetic enzymes, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH), visualized by the peroxidase-antiperoxidase and immunogold-silver-staining methods. TH and DBH immunoreactions yield equivalent results. Both immunocytochemical visualization methods allow detailed analysis of neuronal morphology. The neurons of the human LC fall into four classes: large multipolar neurons with round or multiangular somata, large elliptical "bipolar" neurons, small multipolar neurons, and small ovoid "bipolar" neurons. Though most of the neurons contain neuromelanin pigment, some larger neurons lack pigmentation. Dendritic arborization of all neurons is extensive. Computer-assisted quantitative measurements of the parameters somatic size, dendritic arbor length, surface area, and volume are given. Somatic areas of LC neurons of all four classes are decreased in older adult brain, but dendritic arborization is equally extensive as in the younger. The rostrocaudal length of the LC is approximately 15 mm, and no age-dependent decrease is observed. Computer-assisted mapping of immunoreactive neurons and three-dimensional reconstruction allow division of the LC into rostral, middle, and caudal parts with characteristic distribution of neurons. Small neurons predominate in all parts, but the relative contribution of larger cells decreases in a rostrocaudal direction. A cell loss of 27-37% occurs in older adult brains and to 55% in the brain of a chronically depressed patient without dementia. Cell loss is highest in the rostral part, lower in the middle, and absent in the caudal part, and more small cells are lost than larger ones.

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