Nitric oxide (NO) is a key activity-dependent modulator of the magnocellular neurosecretory system (MNS) during conditions of high hormonal demand. In addition, recent studies support the presence of a functional consitutive NO tone. The aim of this study was to identify the cellular sources, targets, signalling mechanisms and functional relevance of constitutive NO production within the supraoptic nucleus (SON). Direct visualization of intracellular NO, along with neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and cGMP immunohistochemisty, was used to study the cellular sources and targets of NO within the SON, respectively. Our results support the presence of a strong NO basal tone within the SON, and indicate that vasopressin (VP) neurones constitute the major neuronal source and target of basal NO. NO induced-fluorescence and cGMP immunoreactivity (cGMPir) were also found in the glia and microvasculature of the SON, suggesting that they contribute as sources/targets of NO within the SON. cGMPir was also found in association with glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 (GAD67)- and vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2)-positive terminals. Glutamate, acting on NMDA and possibly AMPA receptors, was found to be an important neurotransmitter driving basal NO production within the SON. Finally, electrophysiological recordings obtained from SON neurones in a slice preparation indicated that constitutive NO efficiently restrains ongoing firing activity of these neurones. Furthermore, phasically active (putative VP) and continuously firing neurones appeared to be influenced by NO originating from different sources. The potential roles for basal NO as an autocrine signalling molecule, and one that bridges neuronal-glial-vascular interactions within the MNS are discussed.
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