When the sympathetic nerves that innervate rat sweat glands reach their targets, they are induced to switch from using norepinephrine as their neurotransmitter to acetylcholine. Catecholamines (such as norepinephrine) released by nerves growing to the sweat gland induce this phenotypic conversion by stimulating production of a cholinergic differentiation factor [sweat gland factor (SGF)] by gland cells. Here, culture of gland cells with sympathetic, but not sensory, neurons induced SGF production. Blockage of α1- or β-adrenergic receptors prevented acquisition of the cholinergic phenotype in sympathetic neurons co-cultured with sweat glands, and sweat glands from sympathectomized animals lacked SGF. Thus, reciprocal instructive interactions, mediated in part by small molecule neurotransmitters, direct the development of this synapse.
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