The release of endogenous oxytocin and vasopressin by rat paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei in vitro during a 10-min period, 30 min after beginning the incubation, was measured radioimmunologically. Mean basal hormone release per 10 min and per pair of nuclei was: 128·4 ± 12·4 (s.e.m.) pg vasopressin (n = 15) and 39·0 ± 3·0 pg oxytocin (n = 66) for supraoptic nuclei from male rats; 273·9 ± 42·6 pg vasopressin (n = 11) and 34·2 ± 3·5 pg oxytocin (n = 15) for supraoptic nuclei from lactating rats; 70·0 ± 8·6 pg vasopressin (n = 52) and 21·8 ± 1·3 pg oxytocin (n = 68) for paraventricular nuclei from male rats; 59·1 ± 8·6 pg vasopressin (n = 10) and 27·0 ± 4·6 pg oxytocin (n = 16) for paraventricular nuclei from lactating rats.
In male and lactating rats, both nuclei contained and released more vasopressin than oxytocin. For oxytocin alone, the paraventricular nucleus of male rats contained and released significantly less hormone than the supraoptic nucleus. This difference was not apparent in lactating rats. For vasopressin alone, the paraventricular nucleus contained and released significantly less hormone than the supraoptic nucleus in both male and lactating rats. When the hormone released was calculated as a percentage of the total tissue content the release was about 0·9% for oxytocin from both nuclei in male and lactating rats and also for vasopressin in lactating rats, but was only about 0·5% for vasopressin from both nuclei in male rats.
The influence of oxytocin and analogues of oxytocin (including one antagonist) upon the release of oxytocin and vasopressin was studied. Adding oxytocin to the incubation medium (0·4–4 nmol/l solution) induced a dose-dependent rise in oxytocin release from both nuclei of male or lactating rats. A 4 nmol/l solution of isotocin had a similar effect to a 0·4 nmol/l solution of oxytocin, but arginine-vasopressin never affected basal release of oxytocin. In no case was vasopressin release modified.
An oxytocin antagonist (1 μmol/l solution) significantly reduced basal oxytocin release and blocked the stimulatory effect normally induced by exogenous oxytocin, as did gallopamil hydrochloride (D600, 10 μmol/l solution), a Ca2+ channel blocker, or incubation in a Ca2+-free medium.
These findings are discussed in relation to the literature on the central effects of neurohypophysial peptides. It may be concluded that the regulatory role of endogenous oxytocin in the hypothalamus on the milk-ejection reflex could result from its local release in the extracellular spaces of magnocellular nuclei.