Ultrastructural subtypes of glutamate-immunoreactive terminals on rat trigeminal motoneurones and their relationships with GABA-immunoreactive terminals

Hsiu Wen Yang, Kwabena Appenteng, Trevor F C Batten

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Electron-microscopic immunolabelling methods were used to study the relationships between glutamate-immunoreactive and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-immunoreactive synapses on trigeminal motoneurones labelled by the retrograde transport of horseradish peroxidase. Serial sections were cut through the motor nucleus, alternate sections were incubated with antibodies to glutamate and GABA, and the immunopositive nerve terminal profiles were recognized using a quantitative, post-embedding immunogold method. Boutons exhibiting high levels of glutamate immunoreactivity and GABA-immunoreactive boutons both formed axo-dendritic and axe-somatic synaptic contacts on labelled motoneurones. Boutons strongly immunopositive for glutamate were not immunopositive for GABA, and vice versa. Strongly glutamate immunoreactive boutons received axo-axonic synaptic contacts but did not form such contacts, while GABA-immunoreactive boutons formed axo-axonic synapses but did not receive them. The presynaptic elements at all axo-axonic synapses on to glutamate-immunoreactive boutons sampled were GABA-immunopositive. These data provide ultrastructural evidence in support of the roles of glutamate and GABA as transmitters at synapses on trigeminal motoneurones, and for presynaptic control of transmission at glutamatergic synapses by GABA acting at receptors at axo-axonic synapses. The vast majority (more than 90%) of strongly glutamate immunoreactive boutons contained spherical synaptic vesicles, in contrast to GABA-immunoreactive boutons, which contained pleomorphic vesicles. Most of the glutamate-immunoreactive boutons (67%) formed asymmetrical synaptic active zones, many of which (47% of total) were associated with subsynaptic dense 'Taxi' bodies (T-terminals), while a smaller population of boutons (21%) formed symmetrical synapses, and a few (11%) made synapses associated with subsynaptic cisternae (C-terminals). The heterogeneity of active zone ultrastructure of boutons identified as being glutamatergic on the basis of their high levels of immunolabelling is discussed in relation to possible differences in co-transmitters released, origins of the synaptic input or post-synaptic receptor subtypes activated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-116
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Axo-axonic synaptic contacts
  • Electron microscopy
  • Immunogold
  • Rat
  • Synapse
  • Trigeminal motor nucleus


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