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J Comp Neurol. 1995 Jul 10;357(4):603-17.

Cholinergic synaptic circuitry in the macaque prefrontal cortex.

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Section of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


Surprisingly little is known about the synaptic architecture of the cholinergic innervation in the primate cerebral cortex in spite of its acknowledged relevance to cognitive processing and Alzheimer's disease. To address this knowledge gap, we examined serially sectioned cholinergic axons in supra- and infragranular layers of the macaque prefrontal cortex by using an antibody against the acetylcholine synthesizing enzyme, choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). The tissue bound antibody was visualized with both immunoperoxidase and silver-enhanced diaminobenzidine sulfide (SEDS) techniques. Both methods revealed that cholinergic axons make synapses in all cortical layers and that these synapses are exclusively symmetric. Cholinergic axons formed synapses primarily on dendritic shafts (70.5%), dendritic spines (25%), and, to a lesser extent, cell bodies (4.5%). Both pyramidal neurons and cells exhibiting the morphological features of GABAergic cells were targets of the cholinergic innervation. Some spiny dendritic shafts received multiple, closely spaced synapses, suggesting that a subset of pyramidal neurons may be subject to a particularly strong cholinergic influence. Analysis of synaptic incidence of cholinergic profiles in the supragranular layers of the prefrontal cortex by the SEDS technique revealed that definitive synaptic junctions were formed by 44% of the cholinergic boutons. An unexpected finding was that cholinergic boutons were frequently apposed to spines and small dendrites without making any visible synaptic specializations. These same spines and dendrites often received asymmetric synapses, presumably of thalamocortical or corticocortical origin. Present ultrastructural findings suggest that acetylcholine may have a dual modulatory effect in the neocortex: one through classical synaptic junctions on dendritic shafts and spines, and the other through nonsynaptic appositions in close vicinity to asymmetric synapses. Further physiological studies are necessary to test the hypothesis of the nonsynaptic release of acetylcholine in the cortex.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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