Expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in cultured cells of the ventral hypothalamus-midbrain of fetal rats has been investigated. TH mRNA and TH were quantified by an Si nuclease protection assay and an immunoblot assay, respectively. Dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) and dopamine secretion were evaluated using their rates of accumulation in the culture medium. The rate of accumulation of DOPA was 2-3 times that of dopamine. Inhibitors of TH activity caused a dose-dependent reduction in DOPA secretion. During an 11-week culture of dissociated cells, TH mRNA increased from 1.6 to 2.8 attomole/well between the first and fourth week of culture, remained steady to the ninth week, and then declined. TH increased from 12 to 105 fmol/well between the first and seventh week and then declined. DOPA secretion increased until the sixth week and then remained steady to the tenth week. An extract of rat pituitaries stimulated DOPA secretion by the cultures in a dose-dependent manner. This activity, attributed to a cytotropic factor (CTF), was inactivated by heating for 10 min in a boiling water bath, but was unaffected by trypsin digestion. Incubation with CTF for 24, 48, 72, and 96 h resulted in a day by day increase in the secretion of DOPA. After 96 h of culture with CTF, the amount per well of TH mRNA, but not TH, was significantly (P < 0.01) greater than the control value. Pituitary CTF is probably not PRL, since rat PRL did not appreciably affect DOPA secretion or the amount of TH mRNA or TH in the cells. Withdrawal of CTF from CTF-stimulated cells resulted in a marked reduction in DOPA secretion as well as a decrease in TH mRNA. These results support the hypothesis that the pituitary gland contains a cytotropic factor that stimulates TH expression in fetal brain cells of the hypothalamus-midbrain.
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