Immunoelectron microscopic localization of neurotransmitters in the cochlea


  • Dr. Michel Eybalin,

    Corresponding author
    1. INSERM U-254 and Université de Montpellier II, Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de l'Audition, CHR Hôpital St. Charles, 34059 Montpellier Cedex 1, France
    • INSERM U-3254, Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de l'Audition, CHR Hôpital St. Charles, 34059 Montpellier Cedex 1, France
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  • Richard A. Altschuler

    1. Kresge Hearing Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
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This paper presents the works and methods of our respective laboratories using electron microscopic immunocytochemistry to identify and localize cochlear neurotransmitters. Antibodies to various prospective neurotransmitters and associated enzymes have been used to study the ultrastructural localization of several candidates for olivocochlear efferent neurotransmitters previously suggested by light microscopic immunocytochemistry. Antibodies against enkephalins label lateral olivocochlear efferent fibers. Antibodies against choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) (an enzyme marker for acetylcholine) label a major population of both lateral and medial efferent fibers and terminals, whereas antibodies to γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) label what might be a small subpopulation of both the lateral and medial efferent systems. The GABA-like immunostained medial efferent fibers are preferentially located in the upper turns of the guinea pig cochlea, particularly the third turn. Immunoelectron microscopy shows that neither GABA nor ChAT immunolabels all medial efferent terminals, regardless of cochlear turn. All the different types of immunolabeled efferent terminals have been observed to make characteristic synaptic contacts; lateral efferent terminals on afferent dendrites and medial efferent terminals on outer hair cells and occasionally on type II afferent dendrites. Other types of contacts involving GABA-like, and sometimes met-enkephalin-like, immunostained fibers are occasionally seen particularly in the upper turns of the cochlea. Immunoelectron microscopic results suggest that both medial and lateral efferent systems might be further subdivided on the basis of differences in neurotransmitters. Future trends of immunocytochemical research on cochlear neurotransmitters are proposed, particularly colocalization studies, which show a complex pattern of coexistence of neurotransmitters in the lateral efferent system.