A quantitative taxonomy of primate striatal neurons was elaborated on the basis of the morphology of Golgi-impregnated neurons. Dendritic arborizations were reconstructed from serial sections and digitized in three dimensions by means of a video computer system. Topological, metrical, and geometrical parameters were measured for each neuron. Groups of neurons were isolated by using uni- and multidimensional statistical tests. A neuronal species was defined as a group of neurons characterized, quantitatively by a series of nonredundant parameters, differing statistically from other groups, and appearing as a separate cluster in principal component analysis. Four neuronal species were isolated: (1) the spiny neuronal species (96% of striatal neurons) characterized by spine-free proximal dendrites (up to 31 μm) and spine-laden distal dendrites, which are more numerous, shorter, and less spiny in the human than in the monkey, (2) the leptodendritic neuronal species (2%) characterized by a small number of long, thick, smooth, and sparsely ramified dendrites, (3) the spidery neuronal species (1%) characterized by very thick dendritic stems and a large number of varicose recurrent distal processes, and (4) the microneuronal species (1%) characterized by numerous short, thin, and beaded axonlike processes. All striatal neurons give off a local axonal arborization.
The size and shape of cell bodies were analyzed quantitatively in Golgi material and in materials treated for Nissl-staining, immunohistochemical demonstration of parvalbumin and histochemical demonstration of acetylcholinesterase. Only three types were distinguishable: small, round cell bodies corresponding to either spiny neurons or microneurons, medium-size elongated cell bodies, which were parvalbumin-immunoreactive and corresponded to leptodendritic neurons, and large round cell bodies, which were acetylcholinesterase-positive and corresponded to spidery neurons. Thorough analysis of previously elaborated classifications revealed that spidery neurons do not exist in rats and cats and that large cholinergic neurons in these species correspond to leptodendritic neurons. From this, it can be assumed that the dendritic domain of striatal cholinergic neurons is considerably smaller in primates than in other species.
Computer simulations based on both the frequency of each neuronal species and their three-dimensional dendritic morphology revealed that the striatum consists of two intertwined dendritic lattices: a fine-grain lattice (300–600 μm) formed by the dendritic arborizations of spiny, spidery, and microneurons, and a large-grain lattice (1,200 μm) formed by the dendritic arborizations of leptodendritic neurons. This suggests that cortical information can be processed in the striatum through two different systems: a fine-grain system that would conserve the precision of the cortical input, and a large-grain system that would blur it.