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Neuroscience. 1996 Sep;74(2):453-60.

Activation of dopaminergic D1 receptors promotes morphogenesis of developing striatal neurons.

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Abteilung Anatomie und Zellbiologie, Universität Ulm, Germany.


The early dopaminergic input from the midbrain may play an important role in the development of the basal ganglia. We therefore investigated whether and how dopamine affects the morphogenesis of striatal target neurons. Dissociated cell cultures of embryonic day 17 rat striatum were raised for seven days. Cells were then incubated with dopamine or various receptor-specific ligands for 1 h. At various times after termination of the treatment, cells were immunostained for growth-associated protein-43. Morphological parameters including numbers of growth cones, length of neurites, number of bifurcations, and neuronal soma size were assessed by means of a computer-based morphometric device. Treatment with dopamine in low concentrations as well as with the D1-like receptor agonist SKF 38393 increased the numbers of growth cones and neurite length and arborization. The morphogenetic effect took several hours to evolve and remained stable for at least 24 h. It could be blocked by the D1-like receptor antagonist SCH 23390 or by cycloheximide but not by pretreatment of the cultures with tetrodotoxin. The D2-like receptor agonist quinpirole had no effect on the morphological parameters and did not contribute to that of SKF 38393. Dopamine and SKF 38393 but not quinpirole also induced an increase in the number of neurons immunoreactive for Fos-like proteins. However, this effect was restricted to growth-associated protein-43-negative neurons. This is the first observation of a positive regulatory effect of D1-like receptors on neuronal morphogenesis. We conclude that the changes reflect true differentiation rather than short-term modulation of cellular properties and that c-fos induction is not an obligatory step in the transduction pathway coupling D1-like receptors to neurite outgrowth. Our results suggest that the differentiation of embryonic striatal neurons is promoted by the dopaminergic nigrostriatal projection through D1-like receptors.

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