The magnocellular oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (VP) neurons of the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system are exceptional cell biological models to study mechanisms of cell-specific gene expression and neurosecretion of neuropeptides in the central nervous system. Single cell differential gene expression experiments have further defined these phenotypes by identifying novel and distinct regulatory molecules in these neurons. Transgenic mouse studies have led to the intergenic region (IGR) hypothesis, which states that the DNA sequences between the OT- and VP-genes contain critical enhancer sites for their cell-specific expression. The recent cloning and sequencing of the human IGR, and its comparison with the mouse IGR sequence has identified conserved sequences as putative, cell-specific enhancer sites which are now being evaluated by biolistic transfections of organotypic hypothalamic cultures. With these data, it is possible to target the gene expression of specific molecules to magnocellular neurons both in vivo and in vitro, in order to perturb and/or visualize neurosecretory and other processes.
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