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Prog Neurobiol. 2003 Dec;71(5):337-58.

The GABAergic phenotype of the "glutamatergic" granule cells of the dentate gyrus.

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Departamento de Fisiología, Biofísica y Neurociencias, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Apartado Postal 14-740, Mexico City 07000, D.F., Mexico.


The granule cells of the dentate gyrus (DG), origin of the mossy fibers (MFs), have been considered to be glutamatergic. However, data obtained with different experimental approaches in recent years may be calling for a redefinition of their phenotype. Although they indeed release glutamate for fast neurotransmission, immunohistological and molecular biology evidence has revealed that these glutamatergic cells also express GABAergic markers. The granule cell expression of a GABAergic phenotype is developmentally regulated. Electrophysiological studies reveal that during the first 3 weeks of age, mossy fiber stimulation provokes monosynaptic fast inhibitory transmission mediated by GABA, besides the monosynaptic excitatory glutamatergic transmission, onto their targets in CA3. After this age, mossy fiber GABAergic transmission abruptly disappears and the GABAergic markers are undetected. In the adult, the GABAergic markers are upregulated and GABA-mediated transmission emerges after induction of hyperexcitability. The simultaneous glutamate- and GABA-mediated signals share the same plastic and pharmacological characteristics that correspond to neurotransmission of mossy fiber origin. This intriguing evidence gives rise to two fundamental points of discussion. The first is the plausible fact that glutamate and GABA, two neurotransmitters of opposing actions, are coreleased from the mossy fibers. The second relates to its functional implications that can be immediately inferred, as the dentate gyrus can exert direct GABA-mediated excitatory actions early in life and inhibitory actions in young and adult hippocampus. This evidence poses the need to reevaluate and reinterpret some aspects of the physiology of the mossy fiber pathway under normal and pathological conditions. This work reviews the recent evidence that supports the assumption that glutamate and GABA can be coreleased from a single pathway, the mossy fibers, and makes some considerations about its functional implications.

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