Possible origins and distribution of immunoreactive nitric oxide synthase-containing nerve fibers in cerebral arteries

Kazuhiko Nozaki, Michael A. Moskowitz, Kenneth I. Maynard, Naoki Koketsu, Ted M. Dawson, David S. Bredt, Solomon H. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

333 Scopus citations


The distribution of perivascular nerve fibers expressing nitric oxide synthase (NOS)-immunoreactivity was examined in Sprague-Dawley and Long-Evans rats using affinity-purified rabbit antisera raised against NOS from rat cerebellum. NOS immunoreactivity was expressed within the endothelium and adventitial nerve fibers in both rat strains. Labeled axons were abundant and dense in the proximal anterior and middle cerebral arteries, but were less numerous in the caudal circle of Willis and in small pial arteries. The sphenopalatine ganglia were the major source of positive fibers in these vessels. Sectioning postganglionic parasympathetic fibers from both sphenopalatine ganglia reduced the density of NOSimmunoreactive (IR) nerve fibers by >75% in the rostral circle of Willis. Moreover, NOS-IR was present in 70-80% of sphenopalatine ganglion cells. Twenty percent of these neurons also contained vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP)-immunoreactivity. By contrast, the superior cervical ganglia did not contain NOS-IR cells. In the trigeminal ganglion, NO-IR neurons were found chiefly within the ophthalmic division; ∼10-15% of neurons were positively labeled. Colocalization with calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) was not observed. Sectioning the major trigeminal branch innervating the circle of Willis decreased positive fibers by ≤25% in the ipsilateral vessels. In the nodose ganglion, 20-30% of neurons contained NOS-immunoreactivity, whereas less than 1% were in the C2 and C3 dorsal root ganglia. Three human circles of Willis obtained at autopsy showed sparse immunoreactive fibers, chiefly within vessels of the posterior circulation. Postmortem delay accounted for some of the reduced density. Our findings indicate that nerve fibers innervating cerebral arteries may serve as a nonendothelial source of the vasodilator nitric oxide (NO). The coexistence of NOS and VIP within sphenopalatine ganglion cells raises the possibility that two vasodilatory agents, one, a highly diffusable short-lived, low-molecular-weight molecule, and the other, a polar 28 amino acid-containing peptide, may serve as coneuromediators within the cerebral circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993


  • Cerebral artery
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nitric oxide synthase
  • Parasympathetic
  • Sphenopalatine ganglion
  • Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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