• immunohistochemistry;
  • confocal microscopy;
  • electron microscopy;
  • electrophysiology;
  • botulinum toxin;
  • guinea pig


Neurons in prevertebral sympathetic ganglia receive convergent synaptic inputs from peripheral enteric neurons in addition to inputs from spinal preganglionic neurons. Although all inputs are functionally cholinergic, inputs from these two sources have distinctive neurochemical and functional profiles. We used multiple-labeling immunofluorescence, quantitative confocal microscopy, ultrastructural immunocytochemistry, and intracellular electrophysiologic recordings to examine whether populations of inputs to the guinea pig coeliac ganglion express different levels of synaptic proteins that could influence synaptic strength. Boutons of enteric intestinofugal inputs, identified by immunoreactivity to vasoactive intestinal peptide, showed considerable heterogeneity in their immunoreactivity to synaptosome-associated protein of 25 kDa (SNAP-25), synapsin, synaptophysin, choline acetyltransferase, and vesicular acetylcholine transporter. Mean levels of immunoreactivity to these proteins were significantly lower in terminals of intestinofugal inputs compared with terminals of spinal preganglionic inputs. Nevertheless, many boutons with undetectable levels of SNAP-25 immunoreactivity formed morphologically normal synapses with target neurons. Treatment with botulinum neurotoxin type A (20–50 nM for 2 hours in vitro) generated significant cleavage of SNAP-25 and produced similar dose- and time-dependent inhibitions of synaptic transmission from all classes of inputs, regardless of their mean level of SNAP-25 expression. The simplest interpretation of these results is that only synaptic boutons with detectable levels of SNAP-25 immunoreactivity contribute significantly to fast cholinergic transmission. Consequently, the low synaptic strength of intestinofugal inputs to final motor neurons in sympathetic pathways may be due in part to the low proportion of their boutons that express SNAP-25 and other synaptic proteins. J. Comp. Neurol. 459:25–43, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.