Endomorphins are opioid tetrapeptides that have high affinity and selectivity for mu-opioid receptors (μORs). Light microscopic studies have shown that endomorphin-1 (EM-1) -containing fibers are distributed within the brainstem dorsal pontine tegmentum. Here, immunoelectron microscopy was conducted in the rat brainstem to identify potential cellular interactions between EM-1 and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) -labeled cellular profiles in the locus coeruleus (LC) and peri-LC, an area known to contain extensive noradrenergic dendrites of LC neurons. Furthermore, sections through the rostral dorsal pons, from colchicine-treated rats, were processed for EM-1 and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), a neuropeptide known to be present in neurons of Barrington's nucleus. EM-1 immunoreactivity was identified in unmyelinated axons, axon terminals, and occasionally in cellular profiles resembling glial processes. Within axon terminals, peroxidase labeling for EM-1 was enriched in large dense core vesicles. In sections processed for EM-1 and TH, approximately 10% of EM-1-containing axon terminals (n=269) targeted dendrites that exhibited immunogold-silver labeling for TH. In contrast, approximately 30% of EM-1-labeled axon terminals analyzed (n = 180) targeted CRF-containing somata and dendrites in Barrington's nucleus. Taken together, these data indicate that the modulation of nociceptive and autonomic function as well as stress and arousal responses attributed to EM-1 in the central nervous system may arise, in part, from direct actions on catecholaminergic neurons in the peri-LC. However, the increased frequency with which EM-1 axon terminals form synapses with CRF-containing profiles in Barrington's nucleus suggests a novel role for EM-1 in the modulation of functions associated with Barrington's nucleus neurons such as micturition control and pelvic visceral function.
- Corticotropin releasing factor
- Electron microscopy