Axoaxonic synapses on terminals of group II muscle spindle afferent axons in the spinal cord of the cat


Dr David J. Maxwell, as above.


The purpose of the present study was to determine if terminals of identified group II muscle spindle afferents participate in axoaxonic synaptic arrangements and, if so, to investigate the transmitter content of presynaptic terminals in these arrangements. Group II muscle afferents supplying the gastrocnemius-soleus or semitendinosus muscles were identified in adult cats and stained intra-axonally with horseradish peroxidase. In total, three group II axons were labelled and processed for combined light and electron microscopy. Group II axons gave rise to collaterals which characteristically descended through the superficial dorsal horn and formed relatively sparse terminal arborizations in the dorsal horn (laminae IV and V) and more profuse arbors in the intermediate grey matter (laminae VI–VII). Forty boutons were examined through series of ultrathin sections and all but four were postsynaptic to other axon terminals. Occasionally, more than one axon was presynaptic to a single group II terminal. Immunogold studies showed that all axons in presynaptic apposition to group II boutons contained γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and also that glycine was colocalized in the majority of these axons. This evidence suggests that transmission from group II muscle afferents is under strong presynaptic inhibitory control and that it is mainly the subgroup of GABAergic interneurons with colocalized glycine which mediate this inhibition. Seventeen group II boutons were components of synaptic triads where the presynaptic axoaxonic bouton formed a synapse with the same dendrite as the group II axon. Therefore, a proportion of the interneurons which form axoaxonic synapses with group II axons are also likely to have postsynaptic inhibitory actions on target neurons of group II afferents.