• GABAergic synapses;
  • 6-Hydroxydopamine;
  • Caudate-putamen;
  • Dendritic spines


The ultrastructure of GABAergic and non-GABAergic synapses in the adult rat neostriatum was examined 6-8 months after unilateral removal of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic pathway by 6-hydroxydopamine injection into the medial forebrain bundle. GABAergic profiles were identified by preembedding glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) immunocytochemistry performed on parasagittal vibratome sections. In three representative fields of the striatum, the nature and number of boutons and their postsynaptic partners were determined and the differences between the striata ipsi- and contralateral to the lesion analyzed. The percentage of GAD-immunoreactive boutons was increased from 23% on the intact side to 28% on the lesioned side. In addition, the GABAergic boutons underwent significantly more multiple contacts with several independent postsynaptic profiles, preferentially with dendritic spines. This could reflect a lesion-induced sprouting of local GABAergic axon terminals. On the other hand, although the vast majority of GABAergic boutons underwent synaptic contacts with dendrites (77% vs. 80%), the number of boutons per dendrite or per dendritic circumference remained unchanged. Thus, the higher frequency of GABAergic boutons may simply reflect the loss of the dopaminergic nerve endings, without a heterosynaptic replacement by GABAergic boutons. The deafferentation also induced structural changes of the postsynaptic profiles. Some dendritic spines had a shortened neck; others were completely integrated in the dendrite which now contained a spine apparatus and was contacted by boutons with the features of axospinous synapses. The spine retraction resulted in a quantitative decrease in the number of spines. Analysis of the synaptic curvature revealed that only spines with a flat contact zone were lost. Concurrently, the number of dendrites was increased, of the GAD-containing in particular, suggesting that the denrites of GABAergic interzeurons tend to elongate and/or arborize. Taken together, the results of the present study show that the dopaminergic denervation caused a remodeling of the postsynaptic neurons. The relative increase of the number of GABAergic boutons and their synaptic contacts suggests that an altered wiring of the intrinsic GABAergic system contributes to the changes in the striatal output activity. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.