Norepinephrine (NE) transporters (NETs) constitute the primary mechanism for inactivation of synaptically released NE, are targets for multiple antidepressants and psychostimulants, and have been reported to be deficient in affective and autonomic disorders. Although the regional distribution of NETs has been defined through synaptosomal transport and autoradiographic approaches, NET protein expression has yet to be characterized fully in the central nervous system (CNS). We identified a cytoplasmic NET epitope (amino acids 585-602) and corresponding antibody (43411) that permits cellular localization of endogenous NET expression in the CNS and periphery. In the adult rat brain, NET labeling was confined to noradrenergic neuronal somata, axons, and dendrites, including extensive arborizations within the hippocampus and cortex, but was absent from epinephrine- and dopamine-containing neurons. Intracerebroventricular anti-dopamine beta-hydroxylase/saporin, a treatment that destroys a majority of noradrenergic neurons and their projections, validated the specificity of the 43411 antibody. At the level of light microscopy, 43411 labeling colocalized with the axonal markers syntaxin, synaptophysin, and SNAP-25. Indirect immunofluorescence revealed a nonuniform pattern of NET expression along axons, particularly evident within sympathetic fibers of the vas deferens, reflecting a high degree of spatial organization of NE clearance. NET labeling in somata was intracellular and absent from plasma membranes. Among nonneuronal cells, glial cells lacked NET immunoreactivity, whereas CNS ependymal cells were an unexpected site of labeling. NET immunoreactivity was also evident in a subset of adrenal chromaffin cells where labeling appeared to be predominantly associated with intracellular vesicles. Initial ultrastructural evaluation via preembedding immunogold techniques also revealed substantial cytoplasmic NET immunoreactivity in axon terminals within the prelimbic prefrontal cortex, consistent with postulates of regulated trafficking controlling neurotransmitter clearance. NET visualization should be of significant benefit in evaluating neuronal injury resulting from chronic drug exposure and in disease states.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.