Recent studies have shown that changes in dendritic architecture are an important component of functional plasticity in the adult central nervous system. In the present study, we determined whether gonadectomy induces changes in dendritic architecture in the arcuate nucleus, a target tissue for gonadal hormones. A combination of retrograde labeling with systemically injected Fluoro-Gold and intracellular injection of neurons in a fixed-slice preparation was used to examine the morphology of neuroendocrine neurons in the rat arcuate nucleus. Intracellullary filled arcuate neuroendocrine neurons (8-21 neurons per brain) from intact (n = 5) and orchidectomized (n = 5) animals were reconstructed with the aid of a computer microscope. A quantitative analysis revealed that orchidectomy had no effect on the number and distribution of Fluoro-Gold-labeled neuroendocrine neurons in the rat arcuate nucleus. The morphology of arcuate neuroendocrine neurons in intact animals was relatively simple, with the majority of neurons (79%) having only two primary dendrites and few dendritic spines. Compared with intact controls, arcuate neuroendocrine neurons in the orchidectomized group had significantly larger somatic profile areas and exhibited significant increases in dendrite length, dendrite volume, terminal branch number, and spines per unit length of dendrite. The increase in terminal branch number in orchidectomized animals was due primarily to the appearance of short branches that gave a striking, claw-like appearance to many of the distal dendrites. These results provide evidence for hormonal regulation of dendritic morphology of arcuate neuroendocrine neurons in adult mammals.
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