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Dev Biol. 1988 Dec;130(2):703-20.

Developmental interactions between sweat glands and the sympathetic neurons which innervate them: effects of delayed innervation on neurotransmitter plasticity and gland maturation.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


The neurotransmitter properties of the sympathetic innervation of sweat glands in rat footpads have previously been shown to undergo a striking change during development. When axons first reach the developing glands, they contain catecholamine histofluorescence and immunoreactivity for catecholamine synthetic enzymes. As the glands and their innervation mature, catecholamines disappear and cholinergic and peptidergic properties appear. Final maturation of the sweat glands, assayed by secretory competence, is correlated temporally with the development of cholinergic function in the innervation. To determine if the neurotransmitter phenotype of sympathetic neurons developing in vivo is plastic, if sympathetic targets can play a role in determining neurotransmitter properties of the neurons which innervate them, and if gland maturation is dependent upon its innervation, the normal developmental interaction between sweat glands and their innervation was disrupted. This was accomplished by a single injection of 6-hydroxy-dopamine (6-OHDA) on Postnatal Day 2. Following this treatment, the arrival of noradrenergic sympathetic axons at the developing glands was delayed 7 to 10 days. Like the gland innervation of normal rats, the axons which innervated the sweat glands of 6-OHDA-treated animals acquired cholinergic function and their expression of endogenous catecholamines declined. The change in neurotransmitter properties, however, occurred later in development than in untreated animals and was not always complete. Even in adult animals, some fibers continued to express endogenous catecholamines and many nerve terminals contained a small proportion of small granular vesicles after permanganate fixation. The gland innervation in the 6-OHDA-treated animals also differed from that of normal rats in that immunoreactivity for VIP was not expressed in the majority of glands. It seems likely that following treatment with 6-OHDA sweat glands were innervated both by neurons that would normally have done so and by neurons that would normally have innervated other, noradrenergic targets in the footpads, such as blood vessels. Contact with sweat glands, therefore, appears to suppress noradrenergic function and induce cholinergic function not only in the neurons which normally innervate the glands but also in neurons which ordinarily innervate other targets. Effects of delayed innervation were also observed on target development. The appearance of sensitivity to cholinergic agonists by the sweat glands was coupled with the onset of cholinergic transmission.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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