Neuropeptide Y (NPY)-like immunoreactivity has been found in nerves that innervate the rat ovary. In this study, we used immunohistochemical and biochemical methods to identify NPY in the prepubertal rat ovary. The normal distribution of NPY-containing nerve fibers and the route by which these nerves enter the ovary were analyzed with indirect immunofluorescence techniques. In ovaries with intact nerves, a profuse network of NPY-labeled fibers was observed surrounding blood vessels. Immunoreactive fibers were also seen in the interstitial tissue and coursing between follicles. Occasionally some fibers appeared to enter the follicles. Surgical transection of the superior ovarian nerve had no effect on NPY immunoreactivity; however, transection of the plexus nerve completely eliminated NPY-labeled nerve fibers in all ovarian compartments. The nature of this immunoreactivity was examined in extracts of pooled ovaries that were subjected to reverse phase HPLC and then analyzed by RIA. The major peak of NPY immunoreactivity in each extract eluted at the same time or slightly before synthetic porcine NPY. Two additional peaks of NPY-like immunoreactivity that eluted much earlier than porcine NPY were found in each extract. We conclude that the plexus nerve carries NPY afferents to the ovary and that the ovary contains NPY-like peptides, one of which has a retention time on reverse phase HPLC nearly identical to that of porcine NPY, whereas two others elute with earlier retention times. While the identity and composition of these substances remain to be determined, the presence of peptides that display NPY-like immunoreactivity in the ovary as well as the profuse network of NPY-containing fibers strongly imply a physiological involvement of NPY in the regulation of ovarian function.
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