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Step by step procedure for stereological counts of catecholamine neurons in the mouse brainstem

D. Bucci, C. L. Busceti, F. Biagioni, M. Ferrucci, F. Nicoletti, F. Fornai


This work represents a detailed methodological description of automated stereology dedicated to all brainstem catecholamine nuclei. Each tyrosine-hydroxylase-containing nucleus was analyzed to count the following features: i) nuclear volume; ii) neuron number per nucleus; iii) neuron area per each nucleus.
A number of reports described catecholamine-containing neurons within brainstem of a variety of animal species. In a recently published work, we reported a simultaneous quantitative analysis of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons in the whole brainstem. Here we report the detailed step by step stereological procedure which allowed to perform a morphometric assessment of each catecholamine nucleus. This protocol provides the method chance to analyze simultaneously various morphological features in the same experimental setting to avoid variability when single nuclei are analyzed in different experiments. This improves the reliability of comparisons between brainstem catecholamine nuclei within the reticular formation to increase our insight about the key functional roles played by these cells in the mammalian brain. In fact, despite being a discrete number of neurons scattered in a small brain area, these cells provide remarkable axonal collateralization which allows the modulation of neuronal activity in the entire CNS. The step by step description of brainstem stereology provided here is reported in order to share these methods and enhance quantitative studies about these fascinating nuclei. At the same time we aim to provide a tool to be used routinely when analyzing the morphology and physiology of brainstem catecholamine cells.

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