Methionine enkephalin, an endogenous opioid peptide, participates in the regulation of growth in the developing brain. In the present study, enkephalin-like immunoreactivity was localized in the cerebellum of developing and adult rats by immunoelectron microscopy. In 10-day-old animals, enkephalin-like immunoreactivity was found in the somata of proliferating, migrating and differentiating neural cells, and was associated with the plasma membrane, microtubules, filaments, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum and nuclear envelope. Both neurons and glia in the cerebellum of the preweaning rat displayed a similar profile of immunoreactivity. Reaction product was also detected in the dendrites and dendritic spines of Purkinje cells where it was concentrated in postsynaptic densities. The majority of internal granule neurons in 10-day-old animals were not immunoreactive, nor were axons, glial processes and postsynaptic elements (with the exception of mossy fiber terminals). At weaning (Day 21), enkephalin-like immunoreactivity was confined primarily to the somata of Purkinje, basket and stellate neurons, and to Purkinje cell dendrites and synaptic spines. Adult rats (day 75) exhibited no enkephalinlike immunoreactivity. These results establish that enkephalin or an enkephalin-like substance can be detected during the ontogeny of both neurons and glia in the cerebellar cortex, and appears to be associated with certain structural elements.
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