Sequential immunohistochemical demonstration of nerve growth factor receptor and choline acetyltransferase on the same tissue section in the rat revealed that approximately 92% of all cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain possessed that receptor. Only 0.9% of the neurons demonstrating nerve growth factor receptor in the basal nuclear complex lacked the cholinergic synthetic enzyme, and a similarly small percentage of cholinergic cells, 7.1%, were choline acetyltransferase-positive but nerve growth factor receptor-negative. Affiliation of nerve growth factor receptor with structural entities morphologically indistinguishable from those demonstrating choline acetyltransferase on separate but corresponding tissue sections was also observed in the telencephalic fiber tracts and terminal fields of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, including cholinergic puncta in the reticular nucleus of the thalamus. Nerve growth factor receptor was not found in association with choline acetyltransferase-positive somata of the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei, however, nor were fibers immunoreactive for nerve growth factor receptor observed originating from those cell bodies. These results suggest that nerve growth factor receptor, which is probably synthesized in cholinergic basal forebrain somata and transported throughout their dendritic and axonal arbors, has a physiologic role in those cells in the adult nervous system. This does not appear to be the case for phenotypically similar neurons of the pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic complex.
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