Subcellular localization of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in the rat nucleus of the solitary tract in relation to vagal afferent inputs

L. Atkinson, T. F C Batten, E. K A Corbett, J. K. Sinfield, J. Deuchars

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32 Citations (Scopus)


In the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), nitric oxide (NO) modulates neuronal circuits controlling autonomic functions. A proposed source of this NO is via nitric oxide synthase (NOS) present in vagal afferent fibre terminals, which convey visceral afferent information to the NTS. Here, we first determined with electron microscopy that neuronal NOS (nNOS) is present in both presynaptic and postsynaptic structures in the NTS. To examine the relationship of nNOS to vagal afferent fibres the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine was injected into the nodose ganglion and detected in brainstem sections using peroxidase-based methods. nNOS was subsequently visualised using a pre-embedding immunogold procedure. Ultrastructural examination revealed nNOS immunoreactivity in dendrites receiving vagal afferent input. However, although nNOS-immunoreactive terminals were frequently evident in the NTS, none were vagal afferent in origin. Dual immunofluorescence also confirmed lack of co-localisation. Nevertheless, nNOS immunoreactivity was observed in vagal afferent neurone cell bodies of the nodose ganglion. To determine if these labelled cells in the nodose ganglion were indeed vagal afferent neurones nodose ganglion sections were immunostained following application of cholera toxin B subunit to the heart. Whilst some cardiac-innervating neurones were also nNOS immunoreactive, nNOS was never detected in the central terminals of these neurones. These data show that nNOS is present in the NTS in both pre- and postsynaptic structures. However, these presynaptic structures are unlikely to be of vagal afferent origin. The lack of nNOS in vagal afferent terminals in the NTS, yet the presence in some vagal afferent cell bodies, suggests it is selectively targeted to specific regions of the same neurones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-122
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Early online date3 Apr 2003
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Brainstem
  • Electron microscopy
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nodose ganglion


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