Transient expression of acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA and enzyme activity in developing rat thalamus studied by quantitative histochemistry and in situ hybridization

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The molecular basis for transient expression of acetylcholinesterase in noncholinergic regions of the early postnatal rat brain was studied by in situ hybridization histochemistry. A 33P-labelled 63-mer DNA oligonucleotide was used to probe acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA in the brains of rat pups at one, two, six, nine, 12, 16 and 21 days of age (birth = day 0). Cryostat brain-sections were hybridized with probe and exposed to X-ray film or emulsion coatings. Acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA was quantitated by counting silver grains and by measuring X-ray film density with video imaging and computer-based densitometry. Adjacent sections were stained histochemically for acetylcholinesterase activity, also quantitated by video densitometry. Overall there was a significant correlation between apparent levels of acetylcholinesterase activity and acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA. Increases in message tended to accompany the surges of acetylcholinesterase activity that marked the maturation of thalamocortical sensory relay pathways. Acetylcholinesterase expression in the youngest rats was generally sparse but it increased markedly during the first postnatal week, especially in the sensory relay nuclei of the thalamus. Levels of message and enzyme activity in the medial and dorsolateral geniculate and the ventral posteromedial and ventral posterolateral nuclei rose to a peak, typically about day 9. Beyond this time there was a gradual decline. By day 21 the staining and in situ hybridization patterns resembled those in adult brains, whose thalamic relay nuclei are impoverished in acetylcholinesterase activity and messenger RNA. Thus, acetylcholinesterase expression is strongly modulated in certain thalamic systems as they undergo neural morphogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-565
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1996



  • Anterodorsal nucleus
  • Medial geniculate nucleus
  • Neural morphogenesis
  • Nucleus basalis
  • Ventral posterolateral nucleus
  • Ventral posteromedial nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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