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Keywords:

  • limbic system;
  • synaptic transmission;
  • LTP;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • electron microscopy

Abstract

Although calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMK) has been shown to play a critical role in long-term potentiation (LTP) and emotional learning mediated by the basolateral amygdala, little is known about its cellular localization in this region. We have utilized immunohistochemical methods to study the neuronal localization of CaMK, and its relationship to γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic structures, in the rat basolateral amygdala (ABL). Light microscopic observations revealed dense CaMK staining in the ABL. Although the cell bodies and proximal dendrites of virtually every pyramidal cell appeared to be CaMK+, the cell bodies of small nonpyramidal neurons were always unstained. Dual localization of CaMK and GABA immunoreactivity with confocal immunofluorescence microscopy revealed that CaMK and GABA were found in different neuronal populations in the ABL. CaMK was contained only in pyramidal neurons; GABA was contained only in nonpyramidal cells. At the ultrastructural level, it was found that CaMK was localized to pyramidal cell bodies, thick proximal dendrites, thin distal dendrites, most dendritic spines, axon initial segments, and axon terminals forming asymmetrical synapses. These findings suggest that all portions of labeled pyramidal cells, with the exception of some dendritic spines, can exhibit CaMK immunoreactivity. By using a dual immunoperoxidase/immunogold-silver procedure at the ultrastructural level, GABA+ axon terminals were seen to innervate all CaMK+ postsynaptic domains, including cell bodies (22%), thick (>1 μm) dendrites (34%), thin (<1 μm) dendrites (22%), dendritic spines (17%), and axon initial segments (5%). These findings indicate that CaMK is a useful marker for pyramidal neurons in ultrastructural studies of ABL synaptology and that the activity of pyramidal neurons in the ABL is tightly controlled by a high density of GABAergic terminals that target all postsynaptic domains of pyramidal neurons. J. Comp. Neurol. 446:199–218, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.