Axo-axonic synapses formed by somatostatin-expressing GABAergic neurons in rat and monkey visual cortex

Y. Gonchar, S. Turney, J. L. Price, A. Burkhalter

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39 Scopus citations


In cerebral cortex of rat and monkey, the neuropeptide somatostatin (SOM) marks a population of nonpyramidal cells (McDonald et al. [1982] J. Neurocytol. 11:809-824; Hendry et al. [1984] J. Neurosci. 4:2497:2517; Laemle and Feldman [1985] J. Comp. Neurol. 233:452-462; Meineke and Peters [1986] J. Neurocytol. 15:121-136; DeLima and Morrison [1989] J. Comp. Neurol. 283:212-227) that represent a distinct type of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) -ergic neuron (Gonchar and Burkhalter [1997] Cereb. Cortex 7:347-358; Kawaguchi and Kubota [1997] Cereb. Cortex 7:476-486) whose synaptic connections are incompletely understood. The organization of inhibitory inputs to the axon initial segment are of particular interest because of their role in the suppression of action potentials (Miles et al. [1996] Neuron 16:815:823). Synapses on axon initial segments are morphologically heterogeneous (Peters and Harriman [1990] J. Neurocytol. 19:154-174), and some terminals lack parvalbumin (PV) and contain calbindin (Del Rio and DeFelipe [1997] J. Comp. Neurol. 342:389-408), that is also expressed by many SOM-immunoreactive neurons (Kubota et al. [1994] Brain Res. 649:159-173; Gonchar and Burkhalter [1997] Cereb. Cortex 7:347-358). We studied the innervation of pyramidal neurons by SOM neurons in rat and monkey visual cortex and examined putative contacts by confocal microscopy and determined synaptic connections in the electron microscope. Through the confocal microscope, SOM-positive boutons were observed to form close appositions with somata, dendrites, and spines of intracortically projecting pyramidal neurons of rat area 17 and pyramidal cells in monkey striate cortex. In addition, in rat and monkey, SOM boutons were found to be associated with axon initial segments of pyramidal neurons. SOM axon terminals that were apposed to axon initial segments of pyramidal neurons lacked PV, which was shown previously to label axo-axonic terminals provided by chandelier cells (DeFelipe et al. [1989] Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 86:2093-2097; Gonchar and Burkhalter [1999a] J. Comp. Neurol. 406:346:360). Electron microscopic examination directly demonstrated that SOM axon terminals form symmetric synapses with the initial segments of pyramidal cells in supragranular layers of rat and monkey primary visual cortex. These SOM synapses differed ultrastructurally from the more numerous unlabeled symmetric synapses found on initial segments. Postembedding immunostaining revealed that all SOM axon terminals contained GABA. Unlike PV-expressing chandelier cell axons that innervate exclusively initial segments of pyramidal cell axons, SOM-immunoreactive neurons innervate somata, dendrites, spines, and initial segments, that are just one of their targets. Thus, SOM neurons may influence synaptic excitation of pyramidal neurons at the level of synaptic inputs to dendrites as well as at the initiation site of action potential output.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 28 2002


  • Axon initial segment
  • Cortex
  • GABAergic synapses
  • Somatostatin


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