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J Comp Neurol. 1992 Mar 1;317(1):79-90.

Alpha and gamma motoneurons in the peroneal nuclei of the cat spinal cord: an ultrastructural study.

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CNRS URA 1448, Laboratoire de Neurophysiologie, Coll├Ęge de France, Paris.


The aim of the present study was to investigate whether ultrastructural features can be used as a guide to identify alpha- and gamma-motoneurons among the intermediate-size neurons of the peroneal motor nuclei. The peroneus brevis and peroneus tertius muscles of adult cats were injected with horseradish peroxidase, and motoneurons labeled by retrograde axonal transport were examined by electron microscopy. In both nuclei, the distributions of cell-body diameters, measured in the light microscope, were bimodal covering the range of 28-84 microns, with a trough around 50 microns. The sample of 25 motoneurons selected for the ultrastructural study included not only large (presumed alpha) and small (presumed gamma) neurons but also intermediate-size cell bodies with diameters in the 40-60 microns range. For each motoneuron, 2-5 profiles were reconstructed from ultrathin sections taken at 6-8 microns intervals. Synaptic boutons were counted and their lengths of apposition were measured. On the basis of three criteria, namely: (1) bouton types present on the membrane, (2) percentage of membrane length covered by synapses, and (3) the aspect of the nucleolus, all the examined motoneurons, including those with intermediate sizes, fell into one of two categories. Fourteen motoneurons, with cell-body diameters in a range of 55-84 microns, were contacted by all types of boutons (mainly S-type with spherical vesicles, F-type with flattened vesicles, and C-type with subsynaptic cistern); the synaptic covering of the somatic membrane was over 40% and the nucleus contained a vacuolated nucleolus. These were considered alpha-motoneurons. Eleven motoneurons, with only S and F boutons, a synaptic covering under 30%, a compact nucleolus and a cell-body diameter ranging between 28 and 50 microns, were considered gamma-motoneurons. No other combination of the three criteria was observed. These results show that unequivocal distinction of alpha- and gamma-motoneurons is possible in the peroneal nuclei, on the basis of morphological differences independent of cell-body size.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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