Immunocytochemical evidence of well-developed dopaminergic and noradrenergic innervations in the frontal cerebral cortex of human fetuses at midgestation



The catecholaminergic (CA) innervation of the frontal lobe was visualized in 20- to 24-week-old human fetuses with immunocytochemical techniques, by use of antibodies raised against three synthetic enzymes of the CA pathway, tyrosine-hydroxylase (TH), dopamine-β-hydroxylase (DBH), and phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT). DBH-like immunoreactivity (IR) was probably labeling the noradrenergic (NA) fibers and terminals in the cerebral cortex since no PNMT-IR fibers were detected. In double-labeling TH-DBH experiments, 92–95% of the DBH-IR afferents were not labeled with TH antibodies, indicating that TH-like immunoreactivity (TH-IR) was found primarily in dopaminergic (DA) fibers. Although cortical layering had not yet occurred at this stage, the widespread CA innervation observed in the different areas and layers of the fetal frontal cortex was comparable to that previously described in the adult (Gaspar, Berger, Febvret, Vigny, and Henry: J. Comp. Neurol. 279:249–271, '89). At midgestation, the distribution of CA innervation was region and laminar specific: (1) The densest dopaminergic innervation in the cerebral cortex was located caudal to the genu of the corpus callosum: TH-IR fibers were abundant throughout all layers, from the medial telencephalon (future cingulate) to the dorsal areas (presumed motor cortices) and the lateral insular areas; (2) TH-IR fibers were less dense in the rostral prefrontal cortical anlage; (3) DBH-IR noradrenergic afferents were less numerous than the dopaminergic ones in all the cortical areas studied; (4) in all areas, the highest amount of TH and DBH-IR terminals was found in the upper subplate and in the lower part of the cortical plate, followed by the molecular layer and the intermediate zone. The deep subplate exhibited a lower number of positive fibers but contained TH-IR cell bodies. The presence of dense CA innervation in the immature cortical anlage of the human frontal lobe does not exclude a reorganization of DA and NA innervations within the different cortical layers and areas during the protracted pre- and postnatal period of development. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.