• dorsal horn;
  • autonomic areas;
  • neuroanatomical distribution;
  • radioligand binding;
  • oxytocin receptors


Oxytocin binding sites were detected by autoradiography on films and emulsion-coated sections in the spinal cord of adult and postnatal rats from C8 to L2, using a highly selective 125l-labelled oxytocin antagonist. Oxytocin binding sites were detected on all transverse sections in the dorsal horn, where labelling was scattered over laminae I and II. The autonomic areas, i.e. the intermediolateral cell column, the central grey (lamina X) and the nucleus intercalatus were labelled. Binding in the intermediolateral cell column was most frequently observed on sections from T9 to T11 in adult and T7 to T8 in postnatal rats. In this location, oxytocin binding sites were highly concentrated on cell bodies of putative sympathetic preganglionic neurons; however, not all of these cells were labelled. Diffuse labelling occurred on the dorsal part of the central grey, mainly between T8 and L2. Isolated labelled cells belonging to the nucleus intercalatus were scattered between the central canal and the intermediolateral cell column. In addition, oxytocin binding sites were found on some motoneurons of the lateral group of T12-T13, but only in postnatal rats. The distribution of oxytocin binding sites in the rat spinal cord coincides with that of the oxytocin innervation and strongly suggests a modulatory role of this peptide in sensory and autonomic functions.