Distribution of monoamine‐synthesizing neurons in the human medulla oblongata

G. M. Halliday, Y. W. Li, T. H. Joh, R. G.H. Cotton, P. R.C. Howe, L. B. Geffen, W. W. Blessing

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    We have employed immunohistochemical and morphometric procedures to study the distribution of monoamine‐synthesizing neurons in the medulla oblongata of the adult human, utilizing antibodies to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), phenylethanolamine N‐methyltransferase (PNMT), and phenylalanine hydroxylase (PH8). In the human brain, the antigen with which PH8 reacts occurs within neurons that presumably synthesize serotonin (Haan et al., ′87). Neurons containing these antigens were mapped and counted in successive coronal sections with the aid of a computer‐assisted procedure. The results indicate that monoamine‐synthesizing neurons are distributed in the human brain in patterns broadly similar to those described for other species. TH‐immunoreactive cells extended caudorostrally for approximately 32 mm commencing at the spinomedullary junction and ending 8 mm caudal to the pontomedullary junction. In coronal sections these TH‐immunoreactive neurons were seen in the lateral medulla dorsal to the inferior olive extending in a continuous band to the dorsomedial medulla. Above the obex the majority of these cells apparently synthesize adrenaline since many PNMT‐immunoreactive cells were also found in this region. There were few or no PNMT‐immunoreactive cells caudal to the obex, indicating that the TH‐immunoreactive cells in this region synthesize either noradrenaline or dopamine. Approximately 65% of these TH‐immunoreactive neurons contained melanin pigment, whereas few or no PNMT‐immunoreactive cells contained melanin pigment. PH8‐immunoreactive cells extended throughout the rostrocaudal extent of the medulla oblongata (approximately 40 mm). In coronal sections the majority were found in the medullary raphe nuclei. However, many cells throughout the rostrocaudal extent of the medulla were found laterally intermingled with catecholamine‐synthesizing neurons. Occasional neurons in the lateral medulla appeared to contain both PH8‐ and TH‐immunoreactivity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)301-317
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 1988


    • adrenaline‐synthesizing cells
    • catecholamine‐synthesizing cells
    • pigmented cells
    • serotonin‐synthesizing cells


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