Ultrastructure and synaptic organization of axon terminals from brainstem structures to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus of the rat

Masaru Kuroda, Joseph L. Price

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The ultrastructural characteristics and synaptic organization of afferent terminals from the brainstem to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) of the rat have been studied with the electron microscope, by means of anterograde transport of wheat germ agglutinin‐horseradish peroxidase (WGA‐HRP). Labeled fibers were seen predominantly in the lateral portion of MD after the injections of WGA‐HRP into the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), the superior colliculus (SC), and the dorsal tegmental region (DT). The boutons arising from the SC were relatively small (< 1.5 μm in diameter), formed asymmetric synaptic contacts with small dendrites and dendritic spines, and contained round synaptic vesicles. The axon terminals from the DT were mostly large boutons (2–4.5 μm) with asymmetric synaptic specializations and round vesicles. These boutons and their postsynaptic targets formed synaptic glomeruli that were entirely or partially ensheathed by glial lamellae. The ultrastructural features are almost identical to those of boutons in the medial and central segments of MD that were previously shown to originate from the basal amygdaloid nucleus and the piriform cortex. The boutons from the SNr had a wide range in size, but the majority were medium‐sized to large (1.5–4 μm). The nigral boutons established symmetric synaptic contacts with dendritic shafts and occasionally with somata, and contained pleomorphic vesicles. However, like the DT terminals, they participated in glomerular formations. The nigral terminals closely resemble previously described terminals in the medial part of MD from the ventral pallidum, except that the nigral terminals formed en passant and axosomatic synapses as well as axodendritic synapses. A combined immunohistochemistry and WGA‐HRP tracing study revealed that the nigral inputs were immunoreactive for glutamic acid decarboxylase and the axon terminals from the DT were immunoreactive for choline acetyltransferase. In a separate study, the colliculothalamic fibers have been shown to take up and transport the transmitter specific tracer [3H]‐D‐aspartate, and are therefore putatively glutamatergic and/or aspartatergic. Taken together: with this, the present results suggest that the collicular afferents are excitatory and glutamatergic and/or aspartatergic, that the inputs from the DT are also excitatory and cholinergic, while the nigral inputs are inhibitory and GABAergic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-552
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 15 1991


  • GABAergic afferent
  • cholinergic afferent
  • immunohistochemistry
  • mediodorsal nucleus


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