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Keywords:

  • electrophysiology;
  • hypothalamus;
  • immunofluorescent tracers;
  • medulla oblongata;
  • neurosecretory bursts;
  • surgical lesion

Abstract

We have previously shown that oxytocin neurons located in the four hypothalamic magnocellular nuclei display synchronous bursts of action potentials before each milk ejection. The mechanisms involved in such a synchronization have, however, not yet been elucidated. In this study, we test the hypothesis of an extranuclear synchronization arising from a common extrahypothalamic input innervating bilateral magnocellular nuclei. First, two different retrograde tracers were injected into the right and left supraoptic nuclei of rats that were fixed 5–7 days later. Each tracer labelled numerous neurons in various brain regions ipsilateral or contralateral to the injection site, but colocalization of the two tracers within the same cell body could only be detected bilaterally in neurons in the ventromedial regions of the medulla oblongata. The axonal projections of these medullary neurons were then visualized by the unilateral microinjection of an anterograde tracer (BDA) within the ventromedial medulla oblongata. BDA-labelled axons afferent to the hypothalamus were found to branch towards both supraoptic nuclei through medial portions of the optic chiasma. Finally, in anaesthetized lactating rats, surgical lesions were placed medially through the optic chiasma and the electrical activity of oxytocin neurons in bilateral supraoptic nuclei was pair-recorded during suckling. The incidence of synchronous bursts in oxytocin neurons located within bilateral supraoptic nuclei were dramatically altered only when the medial portions of the optic chiasma were totally lesioned. Taken together, these data suggest that medullary neurons afferent to bilateral supraoptic nuclei are involved in the recruitment and synchronization of bursting in oxytocin neurons during suckling.