Nitric oxide may serve as a neuronal messenger in the regulation of cardiorespiratory function via the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) activation. Since hypoxic stress would drastically influence the cardiorespiratory function, the present study aimed to examine if the expression of nNOS and NMDA receptor subunit 1 (NMDAR1) in the nodose ganglion (NG) would alter under different extents of hypoxia treatment. The nicotinamine adenine dinucleotide phosphate-diaphorase (NADPH-d) histochemistry, nNOS and NMDAR1 immunofluorescence were used to examine nNOS and NMDAR1 expression in the NG following exposing of adult rats in the altitude chamber (0.27 atm, PO2=43 torr) for 2 and 4 h. The present results showed that NADPH-d, nNOS and NMDAR1 reactivities were co-localized in the NG under normoxic and hypoxic environment. Quantitative evaluation revealed that about 43% of neurons in the NG showed positive response for NADPH-d/nNOS and NMDAR1 reactivities. However, in animals subjected to hypoxia, both the percentage and the staining intensity of NADPH-d/nNOS and NMDAR1 labeled neurons were drastically increased. The percentage of NADPH-d/nNOS and NMDAR1-immunoreactive neurons in the NG was raised to 68% as well as 77%, respectively, following 2 and 4 h of hypoxic exposure. The magnitude of up-regulation was positively correlated with the duration of hypoxic periods. No significant cell loss was observed under this experimental paradigm. These findings suggest that different extents of hypoxia might induce the higher expression of nNOS and NMDAR1 in the NG, which could contribute to the neuronal integration as responding to the different physiological demands under hypoxic stress.
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