The anatomical organization of many neuroendocrine systems implies multiple sites of hormone release in areas mediating multiple aspects of physiology and behavior, yet this neurosecretory complexity has not often been verified. Here we probe the well-characterized hormonal model, the reproductive bag cell neuroendocrine system of the sea slug Aplysia californica. The bag cell neurons of Aplysia mediate egg-laying behavior through the coordinated secretion of a suite of peptides derived from a single gene product, the egg-laying prohormone (proELH). Although the majority of bag cell neurons are located within two major abdominal bag cell clusters, smaller groups of egg-laying hormone-expressing cells have been observed in specific pleural and cerebral ganglia regions, some of which have been reported to be electrically connected to the abdominal bag cell clusters. Releasates are sampled from discrete locations within the Aplysia CNS before and during stimulation of afterdischarge activity and subsequently analyzed with matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Site-specific release profiles are observed at bag cell cluster, pleural, and genital ganglion sites after site-specific electrophysiological activation of bag cell afterdischarges. These data demonstrate that the bag cell network has multiple neurohemal release sites, exhibits descending activation that travels from the cerebral and pleural ganglia down to the abdominal bag cell clusters, and releases spatially distinct profiles of proELH-derived peptides within the Aplysia nervous system. Such distributed neurosecretory organization may be a common feature of neuroendocrine systems across higher order organisms linking multiple behavioral aspects to a single neuronal network.
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