Ontogeny of Neurochemical Markers for Noradrenergic, GABAergic and Cholinergic Neurons in Neocortex Lesioned with Methylazoxymethanol Acetate

Michael V. Johnston, Joseph T. Coyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Abstract: Methylazoxymethanol acetate (MAM), a potent, rapidly eliminated nucleic acid alkylating agent, produces microencephaly in rat pups when injected into their dams on day 15 of gestation. In the adult microencephalic rats, neuronal loss is largely confined to telencephalic structures, such as the superficial neocortical laminae, whose neuroepithelial progenitor cells were undergoing vigorous replication during the chemical exposure. Histological examination of the forebrain 2 days after injection revealed early selective damage to the ventricular geminal zone with relative sparing of cortical plate neurons generated on earlier days. The degree of specificity of MAM's action on neurochemically defined neuronal populations was examined by measuring presynaptic markers for GABAergic, noradrenergic and cholinergic neurons in atrophic lateral cortex from 20 days gestation to adulthood. Although treatment reduced GABAergic markers (GABA, its synthetic enzyme and synaptosomal uptake process) in proportion to loss of cortex mass (‐67%), the maturational pattern for remaining GABAergic neurons was virtually normal. Although the maturational sequence of noradrenergic markers was similar to control, the concentration of endogenous norepinephrine, [3H]norepinephrine uptake and tyrosine hydroxylase specific activity were two‐ to fourfold higher than control at each time. However, total noradrenergic markers per cortex section were nearly identical to control throughout development, indicating that development of the noradrenergic axonal arbor in neocortex was insensitive to loss of neurons in the terminal field. Maturation of cholinergic markers (endogenous acetylcholine, its synthetic enzyme and [3H]choline uptake) in the atrophic cortex was biphasic: concentrations were similar to control values for the first 12 postnatal days, but gradually rose to levels twofold higher than control. These results indicate that neurochemical alterations observed in cortex from prenatally MAM‐treated rats are primarily the result of early selective elimination of neuronal subpopulations. Fetal MAM exposure appeared to have minimal effects on biochemical differentiation of neurons remaining intact in the atrophic cortex. MAM appears to be a useful toxin for producing selective loss of neuronal groups based on their time of generation in the fetus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1429-1441
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1980
Externally publishedYes


  • Cerebral cortex
  • Cholinergic neurons
  • Developmental neurochemistry
  • GABAergic neurons
  • Neurotoxins
  • Noradrenergic neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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