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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1990 Mar 1;52(1-2):95-111.

Development of GABAergic synaptic connections in vivo and in cultures from the rat superior colliculus.

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Department of Neurophysiology, Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Martinsried, F.R.G.


Synaptic activity in the superficial (i.e. visual) layer of the superior colliculus was investigated with intracellular microelectrodes using a preparation of the isolated superfused tectum from neonatal rat. It was found that by postnatal day 9 (i.e. before eye opening) the majority of neurons in the superficial gray layer (SGS, stratum griseum superficiale) were already capable of generating Cl(-)-dependent inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) in response to intracollicular stimulation. Properties and development of GABAergic synaptic connections were further characterized in a dissociated cell culture from the SGS. The cultures were prepared from E21 rat embryos and studied between 1 and 38 days in vitro (DIV). gamma-[3H]aminobutyric acid ([3H]GABA) uptake served to identify GABAergic neurons and to estimate their relative density. Axon terminals were labeled by indirect immunostaining for glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and examined with light (LM) and electron microscopy (EM). Responsiveness to exogenous and endogenous GABA was investigated by recording ionic currents with patch clamp techniques. [3H]GABA uptake-positive neurons constituted about 40% of the whole cellular population dissociated from the SGS of E21 rats. After 2 weeks in culture, [3H]GABA uptake was observed in 45-60% of the cells with neuronal features. The relative number of GAD-immunoreactive neuronal perikarya ranged from 28 to 39%, after 2 weeks in vitro. Responsiveness to exogenous GABA was found in all freshly plated neurons. Release of GABA could be demonstrated after 2 DIV by recording spontaneous bicuculline-sensitive Cl- currents. These currents had the characteristics of GABAA receptor-mediated synaptic currents. However, even as late as DIV 6, very few vesicle-containing axonal terminals apposing postsynaptic specializations were revealed with EM. GAD-labeled puncta became clearly visible only after DIV 10-12. Between DIV 14 and 21, the intensity of immunostaining and the density of GAD-labeled synaptic contacts increased, reaching a maximum around DIV 28. GAD-positive puncta covered both neurons and non-neuronal cells. At the level of EM, GAD-positive terminals were shown to establish synaptic contacts with neuronal somata and processes, forming in the majority of cases (22 out of 32 stained terminals) symmetrical contacts. It is concluded that in the SGS of the rat superior colliculus GABAergic neurons and GABAA receptors are present before birth. In dissociated cell cultures ionic currents can be generated in response to endogenous GABA before axonal terminals of GABAergic neurons fully mature. Finally, our experiments show that visual activity is not a prerequisite for the formation of GABAergic synapses between neurons of the SGS.

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