Relationship of Met-enkephalin-like immunoreactivity to vagal afferents and motor dendrites in the nucleus of the solitary tract: a light and electron microscopic dual labeling study

Lydia Velley, Teresa A. Milner, June Chan, Shaun F. Morrison, Virginia M. Pickel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Methionine (Met5)-enkephalin has been implicated in autonomic functions involving vagal reflexes within the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). We examined the light and electron microscopic relationships between neurons containing methionine (Met5)-enkephalin-like immunoreactivity (MELI) and vagal afferents and motor dendrites in the rat NTS. A polyclonal antibody raised against Met5-enkephalin and showing maximal cross-reactivity with this peptide was localized by immunoautoradiography. In the same sections, vagal afferents and motor neurons were identified by histochemical detection of anterogradely and retrogradely transported horseradish peroxidase (HRP). By light microscopy, the MELI was detected in perikarya distributed principally in the dorsomedial, intermediate and parasolitary subdivisions of the NTS. These subnuclei as well as medial and commissural divisions of the NTS also showed: (1) aggregates of silver grains thought to overlie terminals containing MELI, and (2) anterogradely transported HRP in varicose processes. Electron microscopic analysis of the dorsomedial NTS at the level of the area postrema established that MELI was detectable in perikarya, dendrites, and axon terminals. Most of the MELI was associated with large dense core vesicles (dcvs). These opioid terminals formed primarily symmetric synapses on proximal and asymmetric synapses on distal dendrites. Analysis of the dendritic targets of terminals containing MELI revealed that 13/222 were in synaptic contact with dendrites also containing MELI. The remainder of the terminals containing MELI either lacked recognized junctions or formed synapses with unlabeled dendrites. In comparison to the terminals containing MELI in the same series of sections, anterogradely labeled vagal terminals extensively formed asymmetric junctions with distal dendrites and spines. Of the observed anterogradely labeled terminals 6/84 formed synapses with dendrites containing MELI and 3/84 with dendrites containing retrogradely transported HRP. The remainder of the junctions were with dendrites lacking detectable immunoautoradiographic or HRP-labeling. The majority of the recognized synapses on labeled dendrites were at more proximal sites possibly reflecting more limited detection of both MELI and retrogradely transported HRP in smaller dendrites. However, the presence of even a few junctions at proximal sites on dendrites where synaptic transmission is known to be more effective suggests a potentially strong modulation of both opioid and vagal motor neurons by visceral afferents in the NTS. In addition to forming synapses on dendrites, both vagal afferents and terminals containing MELI showed frequent synaptic associations with unlabeled terminals, but not with each other. This finding suggests that the previously demonstrated opiate binding sites on vagal afferents is most likely attributed to other endogenous opiates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-312
Number of pages15
JournalBrain research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 7 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic
  • Baroreceptor reflex
  • Opioid peptide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Relationship of Met-enkephalin-like immunoreactivity to vagal afferents and motor dendrites in the nucleus of the solitary tract: a light and electron microscopic dual labeling study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this