The autoradiographic localization of radiolabelled taurine taken up in the rat substantia nigra in vivo together with conditions of release of the [3H]taurine taken up into brain slices were studied to determine whether they are consistent with the hypothesis that taurine may act as a neurotransmitter in the striatonigral pathway.
At the light microscopic level the main cellular elements that became radiolabelled following the injection of [3H]taurine into the substantia nigra could be identified as glial cells. Electron microscope autoradiography confirmed that a subpopulation of glial cells including astrocytes, pericytes, and oligodendrocytes were radiolabelled and that neuronal perikarya were not radiolabelled. In addition, axonal elements including both terminal and preterminal boutons were found to have silver grains overlying them and were thus considered to be radiolabelled. This was supported by a quantitative analysis of the distribution of the silver grains; whereas glial elements had a significantly higher number of grains associated with them than with any other structure, axonal elements had a significantly greater number of grains than dendritic structures.
Release of the preloaded [3H]taurine from superfused slices of substantia nigra occurred in response to veratridine, was calcium-dependent and was sensitive to inhibition by high magnesium concentrations or tetrodotoxin. Following the destruction of neurons in the striatum by ibotenic acid injections, although the weight of the ipsilateral substantia nigra was reduced, the uptake of [3H]taurine was not altered. In contrast to this, the veratridine-stimulated release was markedly attenuated, implying that the destruction of striatal neurons causes the loss of sites in the substantia nigra from which exogenous taurine is released.
These results add further support to previous suggestions that taurine might act as a neurotransmitter or neuromodulator in the striatonigral pathway.