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Age-related changes in the catecholaminergic neurons of the mesopontine tegmentum in the rat

Dimitar E. Itzev, Wladimir A. Ovtscharoff, Enrico Marani, Kamen G. Usunoff


Immunohistochemistry and computer assisted image analysis were used to examine the age-related changes in tyrosine hydroxylase- (TH-) immunoreactivity in substantia nigra (SN), ventral tegmental area (VTA), locus ceruleus (LC) and dopamine-betahyroxylase- (DBH-) immunoreactivity in LC and subceruleus nuclei of the rat. The findings in 3-month-old rats were compared with 28-month-old rats. In SN TH-positive neurons were concentrated in pars compacta and to a lesser extent - in pars lateralis. In VTA the TH-positive neurons were present over the entire area. In LC the immunoreactive perikarya were densely arranged and superimposed, but in subceruleus nuclei they were less numerous and individual cells were clearly discernible. The DBHimmunoreaction distinctly demonstrated the noradrenergic LC and subceruleus neurons. The results indicate of only subtle signs of cell loss in the dopaminergic neuronal population of SN and VTA, whilst the cell loss of the noradrenergic neurons in LC and subceruleus nuclei is evident. On the other hand, considerable age-related dendritic alterations were observed in all catecholaminergic nuclei. Cross-sectional area and optical density (OD) of the TH-immunoreactive neurons in SN, VTA and LC, and of the DBH-immunoreactive neurons in LC and subceruleus nuclei were investigated. In aging the cross-sectional area decreased statistically and OD of the neurons in SN decreased with 13%. In VTA the cross-sectional area did not change its dimensions, while the OD increased with 19%. In LC and subceruleus nuclei the cross-sectional area decreased with 36% and the OD of the neurons decreased with 16%. In conclusion, the most resistant to age-related changes catecholaminergic region in the rat is the VTA, followed by the pars compacta of SN. Rodent LC is a very vulnerable region.

Biomedical Reviews 2007; 18: 45-58.

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About The Authors

Dimitar E. Itzev
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Wladimir A. Ovtscharoff
Medical University of Sofia

Enrico Marani
University of Twente

Kamen G. Usunoff
Medical University of Sofia

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