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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Jan 8;364(2):231-53.

Synaptic innervation of midbrain dopaminergic neurons by glutamate-enriched terminals in the squirrel monkey.

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Centre de Recherche en Neurobiologie, Hôpital de l'Enfant-Jésus and Université Laval, Québec, Canada.


The excitatory amino acid, glutamate, has long been thought to be a transmitter that plays a major role in the control of the firing pattern of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. The present study was aimed at elucidating the anatomical substrate that underlies the functional interaction between glutamatergic afferents and midbrain dopaminergic neurons in the squirrel monkey. To do this, we combined preembedding immunocytochemistry for tyrosine hydroxylase and calbindin D-28k with postembedding immunostaining for glutamate. On the basis of their ultrastructural features, three types (so-called types I, II, and III) of glutamate-enriched terminals were found to form asymmetric synapses with dendrites and perikarya of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. The type I terminals accounted for more than 70% of the total population of glutamate-enriched boutons in contact with dopaminergic cells in the dorsal and ventral tiers of the substantia nigra pars compacta as well as in the ventral tegmental area, whereas 5-20% of the glutamatergic synapses with dopaminergic neurons involved the two other types of terminals. The major finding of our study is that the glutamate-enriched boutons were involved in 70% of the axodendritic synapses in the ventral tegmental area. In contrast, less than 40% of the boutons in contact with dopaminergic dendrites were immunoreactive for glutamate in the dorsal and ventral tiers of the substantia nigra pars compacta. Approximately 50% of the terminals in contact with the perikarya of the different populations of midbrain dopaminergic neurons displayed glutamate immunoreactivity. In conclusion, our findings provide the first evidence that glutamate-enriched terminals form synapses with midbrain dopaminergic neurons in primates. The fact that the proportion of glutamatergic boutons in contact with dopaminergic cells is higher in the ventral tegmental area than in the substantia nigra pars compacta suggests that the different groups of midbrain dopaminergic neurons are modulated differently by extrinsic glutamatergic afferents in primates.

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