Plasma concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin were measured in relationship to oxytocin cell firing during suckling in urethane-anaesthetized rats.
Preliminary experiments showed that plasma concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin, which were increased immediately after anaesthesia, reverted to basal concentrations 3 h later. Moreover, it was found that exogenous oxytocin had entirely disappeared 5 min after i.v. bolus injections of known doses of oxytocin.
Suckling did not modify the basal plasma concentration of oxytocin (14·6 ± 2·9 compared with 14·±61·5 pmol/l before suckling) except during a brief period immediately after neurosecretory bursts on oxytocin cells (37·8 ± 5·2 pmol/l; P < 0·001, n = 11). The plasma concentration of oxytocin did not differ significantly from the basal concentration 1·5 min later. The plasma concentration of vasopressin never varied.
After two neurosecretory bursts of similar amplitude (total number of spikes during the burst) recorded on the same oxytocin cell, the variations in plasma concentration of oxytocin were also similar. When, for a given cell, the amplitude of neurosecretory bursts increased or decreased, the amount of oxytocin released changed in the same way.
These data demonstrate (1) that suckling induces pulsatile release of oxytocin without vasopressin, and (2) a direct relationship between the amounts of oxytocin released and the amplitude of oxytocin cell neurosecretory bursts which argue in favour of simultaneous increases or decreases in the neurosecretory burst amplitudes on all oxytocin cells.