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Quantitative immuno-electron microscopic analysis of nuclear respiratory factor 2 alpha and beta subunits: Normal distribution and activity-dependent regulation in mammalian visual cortex



The macaque visual cortex is exquisitely organized into columns, modules, and streams, much of which can be correlated with its metabolic organization revealed by cytochrome oxidase (CO). Plasticity in the adult primate visual system has also been documented by changes in CO activity. Yet, the molecular mechanism of regulating this enzyme remains not well understood. Being one of only four bigenomic enzymes in mammalian cells, the transcriptional regulation of this enzyme necessitates a potential bigenomic coordinator. Nuclear respiratory factor 2 (NRF-2) or GA-binding protein is a transcription factor that may serve such a critical role. The goal of the present study was to determine if the two major subunits of NRF-2, 2α and 2β, had distinct subcellular distribution in neurons of the rat and monkey visual cortex, if major metabolic neuronal types in the macaque exhibited different levels of the two subunits, and if they would respond differently to monocular impulse blockade. Quantitative immuno-electron microscopy was used. In both rats and monkeys, nuclear labeling of α and β subunits was mainly over euchromatin rather than heterochromatin, consistent with their active participation in transcriptional activity. Cytoplasmic labeling was over free ribosomes, the Golgi apparatus, and occasionally the nuclear envelope, signifying sites of synthesis and possible posttranslational modifications. The density of both subunits was much higher in the nucleus than in the cytoplasm for all neurons examined, again indicating that their major sites of cellular action is in the nucleus. In both layer IVC and supragranular puffs of the macaque visual cortex, the expression of both NRF-2α and β was higher in medium-sized, non-pyramidal (type C and C-like) cells previously shown to have higher CO activity than small, type A and A-like cells with low CO activity. Pyramidal, type B cells in puffs had intermediate levels of CO as well as NRF-2α and β labeling. Monocular impulse blockade induced a greater reduction of NRF-2 labeling in type C/C-like than type A/A-like cells. These results substantiate and extend our previous findings that NRF-2 is constitutively active in adult primate and rat visual cortical neurons, that it is expressed more strongly in metabolically more active neurons, and that its level is directly regulated by neuronal activity, the blockade of which imposes a greater down-regulation of this transcription factor in metabolically more active than less active neurons.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Margaret T.T. Wong-Riley, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology, and Anatomy, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA. E-mail:


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Quantitative immuno-electron microscopic analysis of nuclear respiratory factor 2 alpha and beta subunits: Normal distribution and activity-dependent regulation in mammalian visual cortex



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