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Cholinergic somata and terminals in the rat substantia nigra: An immunocytochemical study with optical and electron microscopic techniques

AuthorsMartínez-Murillo, Ricardo ; Villalba, R.; Montero-Caballero, M. I.; Rodrigo, J.
Issue Date1989
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationJournal of Comparative Neurology 281: 397- 415 (1989)
AbstractThe topographical distribution, histochemical characteristics, and anatomical relationships of the cellular elements containing choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) immunoreactivity, demonstrated with specific monoclonal antibodies to ChAT following the unlabelled antibody peroxidase-antiperoxidase (PAP) procedure at the optical and electron microscopic levels, were investigated in the rat substantia nigra (SN). Scarce, large (20-30 μm in maximum soma extent) cholinergic cell bodies and processes were found within the boundaries of the SN, in the borders of the pars compacta and pars reticulata, principally at caudal levels. Occasionally, cholinergic neurons were also found at intermediate levels of the SN, in the borders of the pars reticulata and pars lateralis. Cytologically, these large cells resembled ChAT-positive neurons localized in other areas of the central nervous system (CNS) of the rat - for example, the pontomesencephalotegmental (PMT) cholinergic complex (Ch5-Ch6) and the nucleus basalis of Meynert (nbM) (Ch4). Histochemically, ChAT-positive cells in the SN were characterized by their ability to utilize the reduced cofactor nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH). Identified ChAT-positive neurons in the light microscope were subsequently studied in the electron microscope. All cholinergic neurons in the SN share essentially the same ultrastructural characteristics. The copious cytoplasm was rich in organelles with large lipofuscin granules. The synaptic input onto cell bodies and their dendrites was studied in serial sections. Synaptic contacts onto the perikarya and proximal dendrites were sparse and of asymmetric type. Both symmetric and asymmetric synaptic specializations onto ChAT-positive distal dendrites were detected. Asymmetric synaptic contacts onto cell bodies and dendrites were often defined by the presence of subjunctional dense bodies associated with the postsynaptic membrane. The pattern of the synaptic input to these cells differs strikingly from that onto unlabelled neighboring neurons. The perikarya and dendrites of the latter were characteristically covered with synaptic boutons. Scarce immunoreactive terminals in asymmetric synaptic contact with unlabelled dendritic profiles were also detected in portions of SN compacta with no ChAT-positive cells. Extranigrally located ChAT-positive cells of the PMT cholinergic complex were also examined in the electron microscope for comparison purposes. These cells exhibited, on the basis of their morphology and synaptic input pattern, very similar characteristics to those shown by SN cholinergic neurons. On the basis of histochemical and morphological comparison between nigral cholinergic neurons and extranigrally located ChAT-positive cells of the PMT complex, it is concluded that cholinergic neurons in the SN of the rat may be projection neurons of the PMT cholinergic complex ectopically located and that they might play an important role in the regulation of forebrain activation and in locomotion. Our electron microscopic results suggest that substance P and GABA may influence the function of these cells.
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