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Cereb Cortex. 2019 Jul 5;29(7):2797-2814. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy146.

Quantitative Three-Dimensional Reconstructions of Excitatory Synaptic Boutons in Layer 5 of the Adult Human Temporal Lobe Neocortex: A Fine-Scale Electron Microscopic Analysis.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine INM-10, Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Leo-Brandt Str., Jülich, Germany.
University Hospital/Knappschaftskrankenhaus Bochum, In der Schornau 23-25, Bochum, Germany.
Department of Neurosurgery, Ruppiner Kliniken, Medizinische Hochschule Brandenburg, Fehrbelliner Str. 38, Neuruppin, Germany.
Simulation Lab Neuroscience, Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Leo-Brandt Str., Jülich, Germany.
College of Computer, National University of Defense Technology, Changsha, China.
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Cromore Rd., BT52 1SA, Londonderry, UK.
Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Medical Faculty/RWTH University Hospital Aachen, Pauwelsstr. 30, Aachen, Germany.
JARA Translational Brain Medicine, Germany.


Studies of synapses are available for different brain regions of several animal species including non-human primates, but comparatively little is known about their quantitative morphology in humans. Here, synaptic boutons in Layer 5 (L5) of the human temporal lobe (TL) neocortex were investigated in biopsy tissue, using fine-scale electron microscopy, and quantitative three-dimensional reconstructions. The size and organization of the presynaptic active zones (PreAZs), postsynaptic densities (PSDs), and that of the 3 distinct pools of synaptic vesicles (SVs) were particularly analyzed. L5 synaptic boutons were medium-sized (~6 μm2) with a single but relatively large PreAZ (~0.3 μm2). They contained a total of ~1500 SVs/bouton, ~20 constituting the putative readily releasable pool (RRP), ~180 the recycling pool (RP), and the remainder, the resting pool. The PreAZs, PSDs, and vesicle pools are ~3-fold larger than those of CNS synapses in other species. Astrocytic processes reached the synaptic cleft and may regulate the glutamate concentration. Profound differences exist between synapses in human TL neocortex and those described in various species, particularly in the size and geometry of PreAZs and PSDs, the large RRP/RP, and the astrocytic ensheathment suggesting high synaptic efficacy, strength, and modulation of synaptic transmission at human synapses.


electron microscopy; human neocortex; pools of synaptic vesicles; quantitative 3D reconstructions; synaptic boutons


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