Morphological and functional study of dwarf neurons in the rat striatum


Giuseppe Sancesario, Clinica Neurologica, Universitá di Roma Tor Vergata, Via di Tor Vergata 135, 00133 Rome, Italy. E-mail:


Combination of morphological and electrophysiological techniques provided data, suggesting existence in the young rat striatum of a peculiar class of neurons, the neurogliaform or dwarf neurons. Striatal neurons (n = 92), intracellularly recorded from rat brain slices, were filled (one in each slice) with the intracellular marker biocytin, to compare physiological and morphological properties in the same cell. Moreover, some neurons (n = 7) were filled with biocytin plus the fluorescent calcium indicator fura-2, identifying cells during electrophysiological recording.

Electrophysiological recordings showed that striatal neurons had different firing patterns, suggestive in most cases (n = 80) of spiny neuron class and in others (n = 12) of interneuron class. Fura-2 injection clearly identified the body of six medium-sized cells and of one distinctive tiny cell. This small cell, however, showed a resting membrane potential and spontaneous and evoked firing pattern characteristic of striatal interneurons. Moreover, the fura-2 injected in such small neuron also completely filled the cell body of a near large neuron; the fura-2 fluorescence changed synchronously in the two paired neurons after electrical stimulation of the impaled small one. Accordingly, the biocytin staining identified the morphology of the small recorded neuron as a neurogliaform-like cell apposed to a dendrite of an aspiny neuron, suggesting that the dye injected in one neuron had diffused to the other of a different type. Furthermore, such heterologous dye coupling unexpectedly involved seven pairs of cells detected with biocytin staining (7.6% of the recorded neurons), invariably represented by a medium or large neuron on one side, and on the other side by a small (5.44 ± 0.15 × 9.14 ± 0.7 μm, mean ± SD;n = 7) neurogliaform cell, roundish in shape with few slender and short processes, usually apposed to a dendrite of the companion neurons (six out of seven). In the other cases, the biocytin staining revealed in each slice either the morphology of single spiny or aspiny neurons (80.4% of recorded neurons), or of two–three medium-sized spiny neurons detected near to each other, suggesting that dye coupling had occurred typically between similar neurons (11.9% of the recorded neurons).

These data suggest that some neurogliaform cells in the striatum of young rat can be identified as dwarf interneurons, that may be dye-coupled with neurons of different classes.