Oxytocin and vasopressin secreting neurones of the hypothalamic supraoptic nucleus share many membrane characteristics and a roughly similar morphology. However, these two neurone types differ in the relative expression of some intrinsic and synaptic currents, and in the extent of their respective dendritic arbors. Spike depolarizing afterpotentials are present in both types, but more frequently give rise to prolonged burst discharges in vasopressin neurones. Oxytocin, but not vasopressin neurones, are characterized by a depolarization-activated, sustained outward rectifier which turns on near spike threshold, and which can produce prolonged spike frequency adaptation. When this sustained current is deactivated by small hyperpolarizing pulses, a rebound depolarization sufficient to evoke short spike trains follows the offset of these pulses. Both oxytocin and vasopressin neurones exhibit a transient outward rectification underlain by an Ia-type current. This transient rectifier delays spiking to depolarizing stimuli from a relatively hyperpolarized baseline, and is more prominent in vasopressin neurones. As a result, oxytocin neurones may be more reactive to depolarizing inputs. Both cell types receive giutama-tergic, excitatory synaptic inputs and both possess R, S-α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subtypes. The AMPA receptor channel on both cell types is characterized by a relatively high calcium permeability and voltage-dependent rectification, characteristic of a diminished presence of the GluR2 AMPA subunit. However, AMPA-mediated synaptic transients are larger, and decay faster, in oxytocin compared with vasopressin neurones, suggesting a potential difference for synaptic integration. The characteristics of NMDA-mediated synaptic transients are similar in oxytocin and vasopressin neurones, but some data suggest NMDA receptors may be less involved in the glutamatergic activation of oxytocin neurones. In both cell types, synaptic release of glutamate often coactivates AMPA and NMDA receptors. The dendritic morphology of oxytocin and vasopressin neurones in female rats differs from one another and exhibits considerable plasticity as a function of endocrine state. In virgin rats, oxytocin neurones have more dendritic branches and a greater total dendritic length compared with lactation, when the arbor is much less extensive. A complementary change occurs in vasopressin dendrites, which are more extensive during lactation. This reorganization suggests that oxytocin neurones may be more electronically compact during lactation. In addition, such dramatic shifts in overall dendritic length imply that significant gains and losses in either the total number of synapses, or in synaptic density, are incurred by both cell types as a function of reproductive state.
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