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Distinct morphology of cardiac- and brown adipose tissue-projecting neurons in the stellate ganglia of mice

Barrett, MS;Hegarty, DM;Habecker, BA;Aicher, SA;

Sympathetic neurons that innervate the heart are located primarily in the stellate ganglia (SG), which also contains neurons that project to brown adipose tissue (BAT). These studies were designed to examine the morphology of these two populations (cardiac- and BAT-projecting) and their target connectivity. We examined SG neurons in C57BL/6J mice following injections of the retrograde tracer cholera toxin B (CTb) conjugated to Alexa Fluor 488 and Alexa Fluor 555, into cardiac tissue and intrascapular BAT. BAT-projecting SG neurons were widely dispersed in SG, while cardiac-projecting SG neurons were localized primarily near the inferior cardiac nerve base. SG neurons were not dual-labeled, suggesting that sympathetic innervation is specific to the heart and BAT, supporting the idea of “labeled lines” of efferents. Morphologically, cardiac-projecting SG somata had more volume and were less abundant than BAT-projecting neurons using our tracer-labeling paradigm. We found a positive correlation between the number of primary dendrites per neuron and soma volume in cardiac-projecting SG neurons, though not in BAT-projecting neurons. In both SG subpopulations, the number of cholinergic inputs marked with vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) puncta contacting the soma was positively correlated to soma volume, suggesting scaling of inputs across a range of neuronal sizes. In separate studies using dual tracing from left and right BAT, we found that BAT-projecting SG neurons were located predominately ipsilateral to the injection, but a small subset of SG neurons project bilaterally to BAT. This tracing approach will allow the assessment of cell-specific mechanisms of plasticity within subpopulations of SG neurons.