Systemic administration of murine monoclonal acetylcholinesterase antibodies to rats has been shown to cause selective degeneration of sympathetic preganglionic neurons. In the present study rats were subjected to a single i.v. injection of these acetylcholinesterase antibodies, or to normal IgG or saline for control. Exophthalmos, piloerection and eyelid-drooping (ptosis) were observed within l h after administration of the antibodies. Rats were killed at different time-points after antibody administration, and the adrenal glands were analysed by means of indirect immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization histochemistry. As soon as 3 h after the antibody treatment, a marked increase in the number of chromaffin cells expressing mRNA encoding, respectively, enkephalin, calcitonin gene-related peptide, galanin, neurotensin and substance P was seen. At 12 h the peptide mRNA levels were still elevated and there was a concomitant increase in the number of peptide-immunoreactive cells. All peptide levels remained high for at least 48 h; however, 77 days after the antibody treatment only enkephalin-immunoreactive cells could be encountered. A disappearance of acetylcholinesterase- and enkephalin-positive fibers was already seen 3 h after the antibody treatment, and after 24 h no fibers were encountered. In contrast, up until 48 h there was no apparent change in the number or intensity of immunofluorescent fibers expressing calcitonin gene-related peptide, galanin, neurotensin or substance P. However, 77 days after the antibody treatment the number of calcitonin gene-related peptide- and substance P-immunoreactive fibers was increased as compared to controls. In addition, reappearance of acetylcholinesterase- and enkephalin-immunoreactive fibers was seen 77 days after antibody administration, although their number was still low as compared to controls. Double-labeling immunohistochemistry revealed that the chromaffin cells expressing peptides after the antibody treatment preferentially were adrenaline storing cells (noradrenaline-negative). The majority of these cells expressed only one peptide. Both surgical transection of the splanchnic nerve as well as treatment with acetylcholine receptor antagonists mimicked the effects seen after the acetylcholinesterase-antibody treatment, although changes were less pronounced. The present results show that interruption of splanchnic transmission induces fast, marked, and selective increases in peptide expression in rat adrenal chromaffin cells.
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