Spexin is a recently identified peptide which is expressed in many different endocrine and nervous tissues. Due to the absence of data regarding spexin expression in the carotid body, the first aim of the present study was to investigate, through immunohistochemistry and Real-Time PCR, the expression and distribution of spexin in the rat and human carotid body. Moreover, the carotid body is known to undergo various structural and functional modifications in response to hyperoxic stimuli during the first postnatal period. Thus, we also evaluated if hyperoxia during the first postnatal weeks may produce changes in the spexin expression. Materials consisted of carotid bodies obtained at autopsy from five human adult subjects and sampled from 10 six-weeks old Sprague-Dawley rats. Five rats were maintained in normoxia for the first six postnatal weeks; five rats were exposed to 60% hyperoxia for 2 weeks and then maintained in normoxia for other 4 weeks. Diffuse anti-spexin immunoreactivity was found in type I cells of both humans and rats. No spexin immunoreactivity was visible in the type II cells. Hyperoxia exposure during the first 2 weeks of postnatal life caused a reduction of volume in the carotid body still apparent after 4 weeks of normoxia. Using real-time PCR, spexin expression was 6-7 times higher in hyperoxia-exposed rats than in normoxia-exposed ones. The expression of spexin in type I cells suggests a possible modulator role in peripheral chemoreception. Moreover, the ascertained role of spexin in the regulation of cell proliferation in other tissues (e.g., adrenal gland cortex) suggests a possible role of spexin also in the hyperoxia-induced plasticity of the carotid body.
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