Plasticity in cultured carotid body chemoreceptors: Environmental modulation of GAP-43 and neurofilament
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In this study we use dissociated cell cultures of the rat carotid body to investigate the adaptive capabilities of endogenous oxygen chemoreceptors, following chronic stimulation by various environmental factors. These oxygen chemoreceptors are catecholamine-containing glomus cells, which derive from the neural crest and resemble adrenal medullary chromaffin cells. Using double-label immunofluorescence, we found that chronic exposure of carotid body cultures to hypoxia (2% to 10% oxygen) caused a significant fraction of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (TH+) glomus cells to acquire detectable immunoreactivity for growth-associated protein GAP-43. The effect was dose-dependent and peaked around an oxygen tension of 6%, where approximately 30% of glomus cells were GAP-43 positive. Treatment with agents that elevate intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) (i.e., dibutyryl cAMP or forskolin) also markedly stimulated GAP-43 expression. Since hypoxia is known to increase cAMP levels in glomus cells, it is possible that the effect of hypoxia on GAP-43 expression was mediated, at least in part, by a cAMP-dependent pathway. Unlike hypoxia, however, cAMP analogs also stimulated neurofilament (NF 68 or NF 160 kD) expression and neurite outgrowth in glomus cells, and these properties were enhanced by retinoic acid. Nerve growth factor, which promotes neuronal differentiation in related crest-derived endocrine cells, and dibutyryl cGMP were ineffective. Thus, it appears that postnatal glomus cells are plastic and can express neuronal traits in vitro. However, since hypoxia stimulated GAP-43 expression, without promoting neurite outgrowth, it appears that the two processes can be uncoupled. We suggest that stimulation of GAP-43 by hypoxia may be important for other physiological processes, e.g., enhancing neurotransmitter release or sensitization of G-protein-coupled receptor transduction.
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