mRNA and protein expression and activities of nitric oxide synthases in the lumbar spinal cord of neonatal rats after sciatic nerve transection and melatonin administration

Sciatic axotomy in 2-day-old rats (P2) causes lumbar motoneuron loss, which could be associated with nitric oxide (NO) production. NO may be produced by three isoforms of synthase (NOS): neuronal (nNOS), endothelial (eNOS) and inducible (iNOS). We investigated NOS expression and NO synthesis in the lumbar enlargement of rats after sciatic nerve transection at P2 and treatment with the antioxidant melatonin (sc; 1 mg/kg). At time points ranging from P2 to P7, expression of each isoform was assessed by RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry; catalytic rates of calcium-dependent (nNOS, eNOS) and independent (iNOS) NOS were measured by the conversion of [3H]L-arginine to [3H]L-citrulline. All NOS isoforms were expressed and active in unlesioned animals. nNOS and iNOS were detected in some small cells in the parenchyma. Only endothelial cells were positive for eNOS. No NOS isoform was detected in motoneurons. Axotomy did not change these immunohistochemical findings, nNOS and iNOS mRNA expression and calcium-independent activity at all survival times. However, sciatic nerve transection reduced eNOS mRNA levels at P7 and increased calcium-dependent activity at 1 and 6 h. Melatonin did not alter NOS expression. Despite having no action on NOS activity in unlesioned controls the neurohormone enhanced calcium-dependent activity at 1 and 72 h and reduced calcium-independent catalysis at 72 h in lesioned rats. These results suggest that NOS isoforms are constitutive in the neonatal lumbar enlargement and are not overexpressed after sciatic axotomy. Changes in NO synthesis induced by axotomy and melatonin administration in the current model are discussed considering some beneficial and deleterious effects that NO may have.

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