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J Comp Neurol. 1993 Jun 15;332(3):326-40.

Distribution of synapses on identified cell types in a gustatory subdivision of the nucleus of the solitary tract.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093.


Two morphological types of neurons in the rostral nucleus of the solitary tract (NST) in the hamster send axons to the parabrachial nucleus (PBN). Elongate cells have oval cell bodies and 2 mediolaterally oriented primary dendrites. Large stellate cells have polygonal cell bodies and 3-5 radiating primary dendrites. Both cell types are located in the rostral central subdivision of the NST, surrounded by primary afferent axons from the oral cavity. This study uses electron microscopy to evaluate the synaptic inputs to horseradish peroxidase (HRP)-labelled elongate and stellate PBN projection cells. Three types of axon terminals provide most of the synapses on the labelled cells. Primary-like terminals contain large, clear, round vesicles and engage in asymmetrical synaptic junctions; they resemble gustatory (facial) afferent terminals identified previously (Whitehead, J. Comp. Neurol. 244:72, 1986). Axon terminals containing small, pleomorphic vesicles (SP terminals), form symmetrical junctions, and resemble Golgi II endings. Terminals containing medium-sized pleomorphic vesicles (MP terminals) form asymmetrical junctions. These types of axon terminals distribute differentially on the labelled cells. Primary-like inputs are largely restricted to distal dendrites and their spines. SP terminals provide more synaptic coverage than primary-like or MP terminals; for both cell types the SP inputs are concentrated proximally on dendrites and cell bodies. The data suggest that elongate and large stellate cells function as second-order projection neurons in the ascending taste system. The density, spatial distribution, and timing of activation of the various types of synapses could relate to the electrophysiological response properties of the projection neurons.

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