Excitatory transmitter amino acid-containing neurons in the rat visual cortex: A light and electron microscopic immunocytochemical study



The distribution and morphology of neurons labelled with antisera to glutamate or aspartate were examined, at the light and electron microscope levels, in the rat visual cortex. Using widely accepted light microscopic features as well as well-established nuclear, cytoplasmic, and synaptic criteria, we noted that glutamate-immunoreactive neurons were pyramidal cells distributed in layers II-VI, with an increased concentration in layers II and III. Aspartate immunoreactivity was localized chiefly to pyramidal neurons in layers II-VI. However, approximately 10% of immunolabelled cells were nonpyramidal neurons scattered throughout the cortex. Cell-body measurements revealed that, for both groups of neurons, layer V contained the largest labelled neurons, whereas layers IV and VI contained the smallest. Furthermore, in every layer, aspartate-stained neurons were larger than glutamate-positive cells. Finally, glutamate- and aspartate-labelled axon terminals formed asymmetrical synapses, which are presumably excitatory in nature, primarily with dendritic spines. These findings, together with recent detailed studies of the projections of glutamate- and aspartate-labelled cortical neurons, may provide essential background information for studies aimed to elucidate the function(s) of excitatory amino acids in the cortex and their role in pathological conditions.