Expression of phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase in rat sympathetic ganglia and extra-adrenal chromaffin tissue

M. C. Bohn*, M. Goldstein, I. B. Black

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


To determine whether similar mechanisms regulate adrenergic phenotypic expression in different cellular populations, the superior cervical sympathetic ganglion (SCG) and extra-adrenal chromaffin tissue were studied in the fetal and neonatal rat; results were compared to those previously obtained with the adrenal medulla. Phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT), the enzyme which converts norepinephrine to epinephrine, was used as an index of adrenergic expression. PNMT catalytic activity was initially detectable in the SCG of normal, untreated fetuses at 17.0 days of gestation (E17.0), and increased three- to fourfold until postnatal day 2. Thereafter activity decreased precipitously, and was undetectable 2 weeks after birth. Immunohistochemical studies, using specific antisera to PNMT, were employed to localize the enzyme. Immunoreactivity (PNMT-IR) was undetectable in sympathetic ganglia of control animals, suggesting that this method is less sensitive than the catalytic assay. Following glucocorticoid treatment, cells heavily stained for PNMT-IR were observed in paravertebral sympathetic ganglia, including the SCG, and in the organ of Zuckerkandl. In the SCG, PNMT-IR was present in small cells presumed to be small, intensely fluorescent (SIF) cells and was never observed in principal ganglion neurons. The increase in PNMT-IR after steroid treatment was strikingly age dependent: initiation of treatment at progressively older ages during the first week of life resulted in fewer and fewer PNMT-IR cells. No response was apparent after 1 week. Moreover, treatment of pregnant rats was associated with appearance of PNMT-IR at E18.5, but not at E16.5. After treatment from days 0 to 6 of life, PNMT-IR gradually disappeared. However, retreatment on days 24-30 caused the reappearance of PNMT-IR, suggesting that exposure to steroids at birth causes (a) an immediate increase in PNMT-IR and (b) responsiveness to steroids during adulthood. Consequently, the disappearance of PNMT-IR after exposure to steroids at birth, is not simply due to death of SIF cells. We conclude that proximity to the adrenal cortex is not necessary for initial expression of PNMT. More generally, the expression of PNMT by ganglion SIF cells parallels that in adrenal chromaffin cells since initial expression was not dependent on high local concentrations of glucocorticoids, whereas subsequent development did require high levels of the hormones. Our observations suggest that similar mechanisms regulate expression and development of the adrenergic phenotype in adrenal and sympathetic ganglia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-308
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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