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Keywords:

  • synapse;
  • ultrastructure;
  • auditory pathway;
  • medulla

Abstract

The synaptic organization of globular bushy cells of the anteroventral cochlear nucleus was quantitatively analyzed in order to understand better their functional attributes. A method was devised to estimate the concentrations and relative proportions of synapses on the entire postsynaptic surface of Golgi-impregnated neurons, by sampling with limited series of sections for electron microscopy. This provided a characteristic synaptic profile which was homogeneous for the population measured.

The total concentration of synaptic endings decreases with distance from the soma. The cochlear, presumably glutamatergic and excitatory, endings with large spherical vesicles (LS) account for most of this decrease. Of the noncochlear inputs, the putative glycinergic endings with flattened vesicles (FL) decrease slightly, and the presumed GABAergic terminals with pleomorphic vesicles (PL) maintain a relatively constant concentration, while endings with small spherical vesicles (SS) increase on the distal dendrites. LS endings have the largest proportion of synapses near the soma, while FL synapses maintain a constant proportion in all cell regions, and PL and SS proportions increase on higher-order dendrites. Excitatory and inhibitory synapses have significant inputs to the axon hillock and initial segment, as well as to the distal dendrites, where dual synapses may provide a way to sample the activity of surrounding neurons.

These features must be considered in explanations of physiological properties, such as the synaptic security, level of spontaneous activity, and well-timed, rapid onset responses, as well as their potential for normalizing and synchronizing an important inhibitory pathway involved in binaural signal processing. Synaptic profile analysis should be useful for experimental studies and for developing realistic computational models.