Neurochemical, electrophysiological and immunocytochemical evidence for a noradrenergic link between the sympathetic nervous system and thymocytes

E. S. Vizi, E. Orsó, O. N. Osipenko, G. Haskó, I. J. Elenkov

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The object of these experiments was to investigate whether noradrenaline is the signal neurotransmitter between the sympathetic nervous system and rat thymocytes. Using immunocytochemistry, evidence was obtained that the rat thymus (thymic capsule, subcapsular region and connective tissue septa) is innervated by noradrenergic varicose axons terminals (tyrosine hydroxylase- and dopamine-β-hydroxylase-immunostained nerve fibres). This innervation is mainly associated with the vasculature and separately from vessels along the thymic tissue septa it branches into the thymic parenchyma. Using electron microscopy, classical synapses between thymocytes and neuronal elements were not observed. The neurochemical study revealed that these nerve terminals are able to take up, store and release noradrenaline upon axonal stimulation in a [Ca2+]o-dependent manner. The release was tetrodotoxin (1 μM)-sensitive, and reserpine pretreatment prevented axonal stimulation to release noradrenaline, indicating vesicular origin of noradrenaline. In addition, it was found that the release of noradrenaline was subjected to negative feedback modulation via presynaptic α2-adrenoreceptors. Using a patch-clamp technique, electrophysiological evidence was obtained showing that noradrenaline inhibits in a concentration-dependent manner outward voltage-dependent potassium (K+) currents recorded from isolated thymocytes. Since noradrenergic varicose axon terminals enter the parenchyma among thymocytes and the boutons are not in close apposition to their target cells, noradrenaline released from these terminals diffuses away from release site to reach its targets, thymocytes, and to exert its inhibitory effect on voltage-dependent K+-current. Since K+ channels are believed to be involved in T cell proliferation and differentiation, the modulation of K+ channel gating by noradrenaline released in response to axonal activity suggests that noradrenaline may play an important role in the fine tuning of thymocyte responsiveness to regulatory signals from blood-born or locally released hormones and cytokines. In this respect, noradrenaline released from non-synaptic neuronal varicosities and exerting its effect within the radius of diffusion may serve as a chemical link between the sympathetic nervous system and thymocytes and may have physiological and pathological importance in the thymus during stress and inflammatory/immune responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1263-1276
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1995


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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