Glutamatergic neurotransmission in the neostriatum and the globus pallidus is mediated through NMDA-type as well as other glutamate receptors and is critical in the expression of basal ganglia function. In order to characterize the cellular, subcellular and subsynaptic localization of NMDA receptors in the neostriatum and globus pallidus, multiple immunocytochemical techniques were applied using antibodies that recognize the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor. In order to determine the spatial relationship between NMDA receptors and AMPA receptors, double labelling was performed with the NR1 antibodies and an antibody that recognizes the GluR2 and 3 subunits of the AMPA receptor.
In the neostriatum all neurons with characteristics of spiny projection neurons, some interneurons and many dendrites and spines were immunoreactive for NR1. In the globus pallidus most perikarya and many dendritic processes were immunopositive. Immunogold methods revealed that most NR1 labelling is associated with asymmetrical synapses and, like the labelling for GluR2/3, is evenly spread across the synapse. Double immunolabelling revealed that in neostriatum, over 80% of NR1-positive axospinous synapses are also positive for GluR2/3. In the globus pallidus most NR1-positive synapses are positive for GluR2/3. In both regions many synapses labelled only for GluR2/3 were also detected.
These results, together with previous data, suggest that NMDA and AMPA receptor subunits are expressed by the same neurons in the neostriatum and globus pallidus and that NMDA and AMPA receptors are, at least in part, colocalized at individual asymmetrical synapses. The synaptic responses to glutamate in these regions are thus likely be mediated by both AMPA and NMDA receptors at the level of individual synapses.