Synaptic organization of projections from basal forebrain structures to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus of the rat

Masaru Kuroda, Joseph L. Price

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The synaptic organization of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) in the rat was studied with the electron microscope, and correlated with the termination of afferent fibers labeled with wheat germ agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (WGA‐HRP). Presynaptic axon terminals were classified into four categories in MD on the basis of the size, synaptic vesicle morphology, and synaptic membrane specializations: (1) small axon terminals with round synaptic vesicles (SR), which made asymmetrical synaptic contacts predominantly with small dendritic shafts; (2) large axon terminals with round vesicles (LR), which established asymmetrical synaptic junctions mainly with large dendritic shafts; (3) small to medium axon terminals with pleomorphic vesicles (SMP), which formed symmetrical synaptic contacts with somata and small‐diameter dendrites; (4) large axon terminals with pleomorphic vesicles (LP), which made symmetrical synaptic contacts with large dendritic shafts. Synaptic glomeruli were also identified in MD that contained either LR or LP terminals as the central presynaptic components. No presynaptic dendrites were identified. In order to identify terminals arising from different sources, injections of WGA‐HRP were made into cortical and subcortical structures known to project to MD, including the prefrontal cortex, piriform cortex, amygdala, ventral pallidum and thalamic reticular nucleus. Axons from the amygdala formed LR terminals, while those from the prefrontal and insular cortex ended exclusively in SR terminals. Fibers labeled from tie piriform cortex formed both LR and SR endings. Based on their morphology, all of these are presumed to be excitatory. In contrast, the axons from the ventral pallidum ended as LP terminals, and those from the thalamic reticular nucleus formed SMP terminals. Both are presumed to be inhibitory. At least some terminals from these sources have also been identified as GABAergic, based on double labeling with anterogradely transported WGA‐HRP and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) immunocytochemistry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-533
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 22 1991


  • electron microscope
  • glutamic acid decarboxylase
  • horseradish peroxidase
  • mediodorsal nucleus


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