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Neuroscience. 2003;119(2):347-63.

Large variability in synaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor density on interneurons and a comparison with pyramidal-cell spines in the rat hippocampus.

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Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, PO Box 37, H-1450, Hungary.


Pyramidal cells receive input from several types of GABA-releasing interneurons and innervate them reciprocally. Glutamatergic activation of interneurons involves both alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) type glutamate receptors expressed in type I synapses, mostly on their dendritic shafts. On average, the synaptic AMPA receptor content is several times higher on interneurons than in the spines of pyramidal cells. To compare the NMDA receptor content of synapses, we used a quantitative postembedding immunogold technique on serial electron microscopic sections, and analysed the synapses on interneuron dendrites and pyramidal cell spines in the CA1 area. Because all NMDA receptors contain the obligatory NR1 subunit, receptor localisation was carried out using antibodies recognising all splice variants of the NR1 subunit. Four populations of synapse were examined: i). on spines of pyramidal cells in stratum (str.) radiatum and str. oriens; ii). on parvalbumin-positive interneuronal dendritic shafts in str. radiatum; iii). on randomly found dendritic shafts in str. oriens and iv). on somatostatin-positive interneuronal dendritic shafts and somata in str. oriens. On average, the size of the synapses on spines was about half of those on interneurons. The four populations of synapse significantly differed in labelling for the NR1 subunit. The median density of NR1 subunit labelling was highest on pyramidal cell spines. It was lowest in the synapses on parvalbumin-positive dendrites in str. radiatum, where more than half of these synapses were immunonegative. In str. oriens, synapses on interneurons had a high variability of receptor content; some dendrites were similar to those in str. radiatum, including the proximal synapses of somatostatin-positive cells, whereas others had immunoreactivity for the NR1 subunit similar to or higher than synapses on pyramidal cell spines. These results show that synaptic NMDA receptor density differs between pyramidal cells and interneurons. Some interneurons may have a high NMDA receptor content, whereas others, like some parvalbumin-expressing cells, a particularly low synaptic NMDA receptor content. Consequently, fast glutamatergic activation of interneurons is expected to show cell type-specific time course and state-dependent dynamics.

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