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Neuroscience. 2009 Dec 29;164(4):1721-31. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.09.042. Epub 2009 Sep 22.

Vesicular glutamate transporter 1 and vesicular glutamate transporter 2 synapses on cholinergic neurons in the sublenticular gray of the rat basal forebrain: a double-label electron microscopic study.

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Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, USA.


The basal forebrain (BF) comprises morphologically and functionally heterogeneous cell populations, including cholinergic and non-cholinergic corticopetal neurons that are implicated in sleep-wake modulation, learning, memory and attention. Several studies suggest that glutamate may be among inputs affecting cholinergic corticopetal neurons but such inputs have not been demonstrated unequivocally. We examined glutamatergic axon terminals in the sublenticular substantia innominata in rats using double-immunolabeling for vesicular glutamate transporters (Vglut1 and Vglut2) and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) at the electron microscopic level. In a total surface area of 30,000 microm(2), we classified the pre- and postsynaptic elements of 813 synaptic boutons. Vglut1 and Vglut2 boutons synapsed with cholinergic dendrites, and occasionally Vglut2 axon terminals also synapsed with cholinergic cell bodies. Vglut1 terminals formed synapses with unlabeled dendrites and spines with equal frequency, while Vglut2 boutons were mainly in synaptic contact with unlabeled dendritic shafts and occasionally with unlabeled spines. In general, Vglut1 boutons contacted more distal dendritic compartments than Vglut2 boutons. About 21% of all synaptic boutons (n=347) detected in tissue that was stained for Vglut1 and ChAT were positive for Vglut1, and 14% of the Vglut1 synapses were made on cholinergic profiles. From separate cases stained for Vglut2 and ChAT, 35% of all synaptic boutons (n=466) were positive for Vglut2, and 23% of the Vglut2 synapses were made on cholinergic profiles. On average, Vglut1 boutons were significantly smaller than Vglut2 synaptic boutons. The Vglut2 boutons that synapsed cholinergic profiles tended to be larger than the Vglut2 boutons that contacted unlabeled, non-cholinergic postsynaptic profiles. The presence of two different subtypes of Vgluts, the size differences of the Vglut synaptic boutons, and their preference for different postsynaptic targets suggest that the action of glutamate on BF neurons is complex and may arise from multiple afferent sources.

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