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Keywords:

  • basal ganglia;
  • striatum;
  • thalamostriatal;
  • VGLUT2;
  • intralaminar thalamus;
  • parafascicular nucleus

Abstract

We examined thalamic input to striatum in rats using immunolabeling for the vesicular glutamate transporter (VGLUT2). Double immunofluorescence viewed with confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) revealed that VGLUT2+ terminals are distinct from VGLUT1+ terminals. CLSM of Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin (PHAL)-labeled cortical or thalamic terminals revealed that VGLUT2 is rare in corticostriatal terminals but nearly always present in thalamostriatal terminals. Electron microscopy revealed that VGLUT2+ terminals made up 39.4% of excitatory terminals in striatum (with VGLUT1+ corticostriatal terminals constituting the rest), and 66.8% of VGLUT2+ terminals synapsed on spines and the remainder on dendrites. VGLUT2+ axospinous terminals had a mean diameter of 0.624 μm, while VGLUT2+ axodendritic terminals a mean diameter of 0.698 μm. In tissue in which we simultaneously immunolabeled thalamostriatal terminals for VGLUT2 and striatal neurons for D1 (with about half of spines immunolabeled for D1), 54.6% of VGLUT2+ terminals targeted D1+ spines (i.e., direct pathway striatal neurons), and 37.3% of D1+ spines received VGLUT2+ synaptic contacts. By contrast, 45.4% of VGLUT2+ terminals targeted D1-negative spines (i.e., indirect pathway striatal neurons), and only 25.8% of D1-negative spines received VGLUT2+ synaptic contacts. Similarly, among VGLUT2+ axodendritic synaptic terminals, 59.1% contacted D1+ dendrites, and 40.9% contacted D1-negative dendrites. VGLUT2+ terminals on D1+ spines and dendrites tended to be slightly smaller than those on D1-negative spines and dendrites. Thus, thalamostriatal terminals contact both direct and indirect pathway striatal neurons, with a slight preference for direct. These results are consistent with physiological studies indicating slightly different effects of thalamic input on the two types of striatal projection neurons. J. Comp. Neurol., 521:1354–1377, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.