Nitric oxide appears to mediate the immune functions of macrophages, the influence of endothelial cells on blood vessel relaxation, and also to serve as a neurotransmitter in the central and peripheral nervous system. 1,17 Macrophage nitric oxide synthase is inducible with massive increases in new nitric oxide synthase protein synthesis following immune stimulation of macrophages.18 By contrast, endothelial nitric oxide synthase and neuronal nitric oxide synthase are thought to be constitutive with activation induced by calcium entry into cells in the absence of new protein synthesis. 4,9,15 Developmental studies showing the transient expression of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in embryonic and early postnatal life in rodent spinal motoneurons and cerebral cortical plate neurons (Bredt and Snyder, unpublished observations) implies inducibility of neuronal nitric oxide synthase. Moreover, neuronal nitric oxide synthase expression is greatly enhanced in sensory ganglia following peripheral axotomy.8,20 Staining for NADPH diaphorase in spinal motoneurons is greatly increased following ventral root avulsion.22 In many parts of the Central Nervous System NADPH diaphorase staining reflects nitric oxide synthase.3,11. In the present study, we have combined in situ hybridization for neuronal nitric oxide synthase, immunohistochemical staining of neuronal nitric oxide synthase, and NADPH diaphorase staining to establish that neuronal nitric oxide synthase expression is markedly augmented in spinal motoneurons following avulsion. The generality of this effect is evident from augmented staining in nucleus dorsalis following spinal cord transection.
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