Exposure of the preoptic-tuberoinfundibular system to iron ions causes ovulation in the pro-oestrous rat. This electrochemical treatment has been used frequently to study the way that the hypothalamus triggers secretion of gonadotrophic hormone and most investigators have assumed that the effect is mediated by the direct excitation of those neurones exposed to the cation. The present paper reports experiments designed to confirm that iron directly excites hypothalamic neurones to the firing frequencies essential for ovulation.
Because of the difficulty of measuring input–output relationships in the diffuse preoptic-tuberoinfundibular system the experiments were performed on the anatomically distinct oxytocinergic neurones of the paraventricular-hypophysial tract in lactating rats. These neurones were stimulated electrically (from 10 to 50 Hz for between 1 and 300 s) and subjected to the electrochemical treatment by depositing iron ions from the tip of the stimulating electrode (up to 250 μA anodal current for between 60 and 180 s). Changes in intramammary pressure were used to indicate oxytocin release and mammary glands were calibrated for sensitivity by intravenous injection of oxytocin.
Electrical stimulation in excess of about 15 Hz invariably caused release of sufficient oxytocin to cause a rise in intramammary pressure. In contrast, no changes in pressure were observed during or after the electrochemical deposition of iron. The results suggest that the response of hypothalamic neurones to electrochemical treatment is not the same as their response to electrical stimulation.