Expression and plasticity of glutamate receptors in the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus



Magnocellular neuroendocrine cells (MNCs) of the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus (SON) produce and release the hormones vasopressin (VP) and oxytocin (OT) in response to a variety of stimuli to regulate body water and salt, parturition and lactation. Hormone release is influenced by the pattern of neuronal firing of these MNCs, which, in turn, is governed by intrinsic conductances and synaptic inputs, including those mediated by the neurotransmitter glutamate. Functional and molecular evidence has confirmed the expression of AMPA-, NMDA-, and metabotropic-type glutamate receptors in the SON, that together may orchestrate the effects of glutamatergic transmission on neuroendocrine function. However, the specific roles of the different subtypes of glutamate receptors is not yet clear. As with other central neurons, the subunit composition of glutamate receptors on MNCs will likely determine their properties and may potentially help define the differential properties of VP- and OT-producing MNCs. Possible functions of glutamate receptors on SON MNCs include altering excitatory synaptic transmission of osmotic information, neuronal firing, hormone production and release, and calcium signaling. Of interest are the anatomical, molecular, and functional changes at glutamatergic synapses in the SON that occur in response to pertinent physiological stimuli or development. These types of plasticity may include changes in glutamatergic synaptic density, glutamate receptor levels, or glutamate receptor subunit expression, all of which can affect the efficiency of synaptic transmission. Microsc. Res. Tech. 56:92–100, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.