• central amygdaloid nucleus;
  • bed nucleus of the stria terminalis;
  • substantia innominata;
  • ultrastructure;
  • disinhibition


The synaptic circuitry of the intrinsic GABAergic system of the central extended amygdala (CEA) in relation to efferent neurons and cortical afferents was examined in the present study. Neurons in the CEA projecting to the dorsal vagal complex and the parabrachial complex were identified by the retrograde transport of wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP). Postembedding GABA-immunocytochemistry revealed that GABA-immunoreactive (GABA-IR) terminals formed largely symmetrical synaptic contacts with the perikarya and proximal dendritic processes of almost all WGA-HRP-labeled neurons in the CEA. To determine the relationship between cortical afferents and CEA GABAergic neurons, WGA-HRP was used to anterogradely label afferents from the insular cortex in combination with postembedding immunogold detection of GABA. Cortical afferents formed asymmetrical synaptic contacts predominantly on small dendrites and dendritic spines. Many of the dendrites postsynaptic to cortical terminals in the central nucleus were immunoreactive for GABA although only relatively few spines were GABA-IR. Combining pre-embedding GAD-immunocytochemistry with cortical lesions resulted in approximately 40% of degenerating terminals of insular cortical origin in the central nucleus in contact with small, GAD-IR dendrites and spines.

The present results demonstrate that the neurons providing the major CEA outputs to the brainstem receive an extensive GABAergic innervation, strongly supporting our proposal that CEA efferent neurons are under strong tonic inhibition by intrinsic GABAergic neurons. Further, our finding that the major cortical input to the central nucleus preferentially innervates intrinsic GABAergic neurons suggests that these neurons in the CEA may serve as an interface between the principal inputs and outputs of this forebrain region. © Wiley-Liss, Inc.