Mechanisms regulating peptidergic, noradrenergic and cholinergic development were compared in dissociated cell cultures of neonatal rat sympathetic ganglia. The majority of cultured neurons contained at least two neurotransmitters and many neurons contained three or more. These studies were undertaken to determine whether co-existing transmitters were co-ordinately regulated by the environment. Co-culture of sympathetic neurons with ganglion non-neuronal cells increased substance P and choline acetyl- transferase activity but decreased somatostatin and tyrosine hydroxylase activity. Conversely, elimination of non-neuronal cells virtually abolished neuronal expression of substance P and choline acetyltransferase and increased somatostatin and tyrosine hydroxylase. Consequently, under these conditions, somatostatin and tyrosine hydroxylase were similarly regulated, whereas substance P was associated with choline acetyltransferase. By contrast, stimulation of adenylate cyclase or treatment with membrane-permeable adenosine 3′,5′-phosphate analogs increased tyrosine hydroxylase and decreased choline acetyltransferase, but had no effect on substance P or somatostatin levels. Moreover, potassium- or veratridine-induced membrane depolarization increased tyrosine hydroxylase but decreased substance P, somatostatin and norepinephrine levels. However, inhibition of neurotransmitter release with magnesium or calcium-free medium prevented the decrease in norepinephrine levels but not the decrease in substance P and somatostatin. Consequently, the effects of membrane depolorization on peptide levels cannot be ascribed to release and subsequent depletion of substance P and somatostatin and must result from decreased net synthesis (synthesis minus catabolism) of the transmitters. Nerve growth-factor treatment also differentially regulated transmitter metabolism; nerve growth factor increased protein-specific activities of tyrosine hydroxylase and choline acetyltransferase but did not increase the protein-specific content of substance P and somatostatin. Quantitative transmitter expression was also influenced by neuron density; increasing density elevated substance P and choline acetyltransferase activity but decreased somatostatin and tyrosine hydroxylase activity per neuron. Finally, culture of sympathetic neurons in a defined (serum-free) medium also altered some but not all traits, decreasing substance P. somatostatin and choline acetyltransferase without any change in tyrosine hydroxylase. Our observations suggest that there is no fixed relationship between any pair of the four phenotypes examined and that each phenotype appears to be independently regulated in cultured sympathetic neurons. Nevertheless, under many circumstances noradrenergic and somatostatin development were co-ordinately regulated, while substance P and choline acetyltransferase development were similar, possibly indicating some functional relationship between these pairs of transmitters.
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