Monoaminergic presynaptic axons and dendrites in rat locus coeruleus seen in reconstructions of serial sections


  • Philip M. Groves,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309
    • Department of Psychiatry, University of California at San Diego, Medical School, La Jolla, California 92093
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  • Charles J. Wilson

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Anatomy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824
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Locus coeruleus was studied in rats pretreated with intraventricularly administered 5-hydroxydopamine ½ to 3 hours prior to conventional aldehydeosmium fixation. Presynaptic profiles in locus coeruleus neuropil were classified according to the characteristics of their vesicle populations and other features, as in our previous report. Similar categories of endings were observed, and the sites of postsynaptic innervation were identical to those described previously, that is, a majority of synapses were made with dendrites between 0.5 and 2.5 micrometers in cross-sectional diameter, a significant proportion was seen ending onto somatic and dendritic spines, with a relative paucity of synapses made with spine-free membrane of somata and large dendritic trunks. There were no significant differences between different morphological categories of afferent terminals and their spatial distribution onto various postsynaptic targets on locus coeruleus neurons.

In addition to various membrane-bound compartments of the cytoplasm, three categories of synaptic endings were labelled by the synaptic marker, while all others were unlabelled. One of these was identified previously as containing small, rounded synaptic vesicles and an unusually large number of large, dense core vesicles. The synaptic vesicles were lightly labelled with scattered, small, eccentrically placed opaque cores inside the synaptic vesicles, apparently randomly distributed throughout the terminal. This terminal is thought to be serotonergic. A second category of labelled synapse has been previously identified as that derived from small, unmyelinated axons having clusters of pleomorphic synaptic vesicles in which the vesicles are heavily labelled by 5-hydroxydopamine. These are believed to represent catecholaminergic synaptic endings derived from recurrent collaterals as well as extrinsic catecholaminergic innervation of locus coeruleus. A final category of heavily labelled profile was identified as presynaptic dendrites, which, along with recurrent catecholaminergic axon collaterals, probably play an important part in the intrinsic regulation of nucleus locus coeruleus. When 59 labelled synapses were examined in adjacent serial sections, every vesiclecontaining profile was associated with a synaptic contact having characteristic membrane specializations. A similar result was obtained when 132 other unlabelled terminals of different categories were examined in serial sections.