Reorganization of the dendritic trees of oxytocin and vasopressin neurons of the rat supraoptic nucleus during lactation

Javier E. Stern, William E. Armstrong

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Oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (VP) release from the neurohypophysis are correlated with the electrical activity of magnocellular cells (MNCs) in the supraoptic (SON) and paraventricular nuclei. Synaptic inputs to MNCs influence their electrical activity and, hence, hormone release. During lactation OT neurons display a synchronized high-frequency bursting activity preceding each milk ejection. In parallel to the adoption of this pattern of electrical activity, an ultrastructural reorganization of the SON has been observed during lactation. In the present study we performed a light microscopic, morphometric analysis of identified OT and VP neurons in the SON to determine whether the dendrites of these neurons participate in the plasticity observed during lactation. The dendritic trees of OT neurons shrunk during lactation (~41% decrease in the total dendritic length) because of a decreased dendritic branching concentrated at a distance of 100- 200 μm from the soma. No changes in the maximal distal extension were observed. The distribution pattern of dendritic length into branch orders also was affected. Strikingly, opposite effects were observed in VP neurons. The dendritic trees during lactation elongated (~48% increase in the total dendritic length) because of an increased branching close to the soma. No changes in the maximal distal extension were observed. These results indicate that the length and geometry of the dendritic trees of OT and VP neurons are altered in opposite ways during lactation. These changes would influence the availability of postsynaptic space and alter the electrotonic properties of the neurons, affecting the efficacy of synaptic inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-853
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 25 1998



  • Dendrites
  • Lactation
  • Morphometry
  • Oxytocin
  • Supraoptic
  • Vasopressin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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