Tyrosine hydroxylase-containing neurons in the spinal cord of the chicken. I. Development and analysis of catecholamine synthesis capabilities.
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1. The development of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive (TH-IR) neurons was examined in the spinal cord of the chick embryo and hatchling. 2. Two groups of TH-IR cells are described, both of which appear to reach their full complement in number relatively late in embryonic development. One group is comprised of numerous cells located ventral to the central canal which make direct contact with the lumen of the canal. The other group consists of large multipolar neurons that reside in the dorsal horn, more commonly along the outer margin of the gray matter within lamina I and II, and less frequently deeper in the dorsal horn within medial portions of laminae V, VI or VII. 3. TH-IR cells ventral to the central canal in the chick are comparable in location to dopamine (DA)-containing spinal cord cells in lower vertebrate species. In contrast, the dorsally-suited TH-IR cells in the chick are known only to occur in similar positions in higher vertebrates. Therefore, the chick is novel in that the presence of both groups of TH-IR cells appearing together in significant numbers within the spinal cord has not been shown in any other species studied to date. 4. The TH-containing cells in the chick cord do not appear to contain the catecholamine biosynthesis enzymes, DBH or PNMT. Moreover, using anti-DA immunocytochemistry, neither group of TH-IR cells demonstrated detectable levels of DA in control animals nor in animals pretreated with inhibitors of MAO (MAO-I). 5. However, a difference was noted though between the two TH-IR cell groups in terms of their responses to exogenously supplied L-DOPA, the immediate precursor to DA. With the administration of L-DOPA and a MAO-I to chick hatchlings, cells in the region ventral to the central canal stained intensely for DA. In contrast, the same treatment failed to produce DA-immunoreactive cells in the dorsal horn. 6. One reasonable hypothesis for these results is that the TH-IR cells ventral to the central canal contain an active form of AADC, the enzyme that converts L-DOPA to DA. With this interpretation, if these cells can produce DA from L-DOPA, yet do not appear to synthesize DA endogenously, it would appear that the TH enzyme contained in these cells occurs in an inactive form. Whether the TH enzyme in the dorsally located immunoreactive cells is also inactive is uncertain since it remains unclear whether they contain AADC.