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Front Neuroendocrinol. 1993 Oct;14(4):251-302.

Central nervous system effects of the neurohypophyseal hormones and related peptides.

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Rudolf Magnus Institute, Medical Faculty, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


This review of the CNS effects of the neurohypophyseal hormones and related neuropeptides discusses recent data illustrating the significance of these principles in brain function, synthesis, distribution, in particular in extrahypothalamic brain structures, binding sites, and signal transduction. Binding sites for vasopressin of the vascular V1a type have been found in the CNS and there is evidence for the existence of a subtype of the antidiuretic V2 receptor in the brain. Also two types of oxytocin binding sites have been detected. One widely distributed throughout the CNS is comparable to the uterine type receptor and a sexually dimorphic slightly different type is found in the ventromedial nucleus. Vasopressin and oxytocin can be converted to highly selective C-terminal fragments as AVP-(4-9) and OXT-(4-9) and shorter fragments. Conversely they can be acetylated. This almost completely blocks intrinsic activity in bioassays for central and peripheral effects. Such modifications are a good example of the plasticity of a neuropeptide system. For a number of CNS effects of the neurohypophyseal hormones, the whole molecule is required, as it is for their endocrine effects. This is the case for the influence of vasopressin on social communication, temperature regulation, epilepsy, and barrel rotation which may be an animal model of febrile convulsions, and some aspects of the central regulation of the cardiovascular system and for oxytocin on sexual behavior, social communication, and grooming. Nonendocrine C-terminal conversion products seem to exert their effects exclusively on the brain. These neuropeptides modulate learning and memory processes, social recognition, and rewarded behavior. The neuroendocrine and neuropeptide effect of vasopressin and oxytocin and related neuropeptides often exert their CNS effects in an opposite way. Neurochemical and electrophysiological studies suggest that norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate are the neurotransmitters involved in the influence of the neurohypophyseal hormones and related neuropeptides on brain function. It appears that adequate amounts of vasopressin and oxytocin to induce these effects are released at the appropriate sites of action. It is postulated that the mix of neuropeptides released in the brain in response to environmental changes qualifies the behavioral, neuroendocrine, and immune response and the response of the autonomic nervous and vegetative systems of the organism. Although various other neuropeptides, such as those colocalized in vasopressinergic and oxytocinergic neurons, those produced in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) systems, and others, play a role in the modulation of adaptive responses, the neurohypophyseal hormones are unique in that their production sites in the hypothalamus serve the periphery, the pituitary, and the brain.

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