The adult hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system of the rat retains the capacity to express highly polysialylated isoforms of neural cell adhesion molecule normally expressed in developing tissues. Here we report that the expression of these isoforms in neurohypophysial astrocytes (pituicytes) may be regulated by neurosecretory cells. In the intact neurohypophysis a strong and homogeneously distributed immunostaining for the "embryonic", highly sialylated form of neural cell adhesion molecules was detected by light-microscopic immunocytochemistry. By electron-microscopy, both neurosecretory axons and pituicytes were immunoreactive for this isoform. However, in contrast to the rather uniform staining on nerve fibres, polysialic acid immunolabelling on glial surfaces was uneven: immunostaining could be observed on glial surfaces facing neuronal elements, but not at contact sites between pituicytes. In addition, most glial and neuronal elements were heavily and evenly labelled with the polyclonal antibody recognizing "total" neural cell adhesion molecule. Surgical transection of the hypophysial stalk, a procedure that eliminates descending neurosecretory axons from the neurohypophysis, resulted in the complete disappearance of polysialic immunoreactivity from the neurohypophysis. The electron-microscopic analysis confirmed that cell surfaces of pituicytes lacked this immunoreactivity after the lesion. When residual neurosecretory axons were observed following an incomplete lesion, immunoreactivity on axons and glial processes was maintained. Transection did not affect the distribution of "total" neural cell adhesion molecule. We postulate that the presence of neurosecretory axons in the neurohypophysis is necessary to maintain the capacity of pituicytes to express immunoreactivity for the polysialylated isoforms of neural cell adhesion molecule but not the neural cell adhesion molecule itself since immunoreactivity for "total" neural cell adhesion molecule was unaltered after hypophysial stalk transection. This constitutes an example of how neuron-glia interactions could influence properties of the glial cell surface, which, in turn, could be a critical determinant of plasticity and regenerative capacities of the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system.
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