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J Comp Neurol. 1999 Nov 8;414(1):67-79.

Predominance of corticothalamic synaptic inputs to thalamic reticular nucleus neurons in the rat.

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Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Quantitative electron microscopy was used to examine the relative contributions of different types of synapses to the circuitry of the thalamic reticular nucleus (RTN) in the rat. Single RTN cells were injected with Lucifer Yellow (LY) in fixed brain slices and examined after photoconversion; corticothalamic axons and terminals were labeled by anterograde transport of Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin (PHA-L); and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic terminals were labeled by postembedding immunocytochemistry. Three types of synapses, made by morphologically distinguishable small terminals (ST), large terminals (LT), and GABAergic terminals, were distributed on all portions of the dendritic trees of injected RTN cells. ST and LT terminals formed asymmetrical, presumed excitatory, synaptic contacts. On proximal dendrites, approximately 50% of the synapses were ST, 30-40% were LT, and 10-25% were GABAergic. On distal dendrites, 60-65% were ST, 20% were LT, and 15% were GABAergic. PHA-L labeling showed that labeled corticothalamic terminals and ST terminals have identical morphological features and the same distribution patterns on RTN dendrites, indicating that the majority of excitatory afferents to RTN neurons are derived from the cerebral cortex. The LT terminals found in smaller numbers are probably derived from collateral axons of thalamocortical relay cells. GABAergic terminals formed by LY-labeled, intra-RTN axon collaterals were relatively few in number, and no dendrodendritic synapses were observed.

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