Lactation is a physiological condition known to upregulate the expression of the hypothalamic neurohormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, in the rat supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei. Other neuropeptides such as galanin are co-localized in the same magnocellular neurones and their expression has been demonstrated to be regulated by different experimental and physiological conditions. In the present study, we investigated the possible changes in galanin expression during lactation, using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry separately or in combination. Galanin messenger RNA concentrations decreased on day 3 of lactation in both the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and remained low on day 7 of lactation, but no differences were observed between control and 14-day lactating rats. In parallel, immunopositive cell bodies were almost undetectable on day 7 of lactation and immunoreactivity remained weak after 14 days of lactation, whereas galanin immunoreactive profiles in the supraoptic nucleus were more numerous than in the control group. Moreover, the subcellular distribution of immunostaining changed on day 14 of lactation. Galanin immunoreactivity was confined around the nucleus in the control females, but it became weaker and more homogenously distributed throughout the cytoplasm in the lactating rats. Electron microscopy using a pre-embedding technique confirmed that galanin immunoreactivity was no longer restricted to the Golgi complex, but was apparent throughout in the cytoplasm. Multiple labellings showed galanin and galanin messenger RNA to be co-localized with oxytocin messenger RNA in neurones of the dorsomedial part of the supraoptic nucleus during lactation. Some of those doubly labelled cells also expressed vasopressin messenger RNA in the same conditions as revealed by a triple-labelling procedure. As these co-localizations have not been observed in female control rats, lactation provided an example of a physiological condition inducing oxytocin and galanin co-synthesis in a subpopulation of magnocellular neurones. In conclusion, we have demonstrated plasticity of galanin expression during lactation in the hypothalamic magnocellular neurones. This plasticity could be caused by changes in galanin expression or in galanin processing in magnocellular neurones.
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