Evidence from Confocal Fluorescence Microscopy for a Dense, Reciprocal Innervation Between AVP-,somatostatin-, VIP/PHI-, GRP- and VIP/PHI/GRP-immunoreactive Neurons in the Rat Suprachiasmatic Nucleus



The rat suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) consists of several classes of neurons which can be identified by their transmitter content. Knowledge of putative interaction between these different cell types is essential in order to understand the possibilities of information processing within the SCN. The aim of the present study was therefore to obtain more information about the mutual innervation between the main cell classes in the rat SCN, viz. those containing the neuropeptides arginine vasopressin (AVP), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), peptide histidine isoleucine (PHI), gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and somatostatin respectively. For this purpose, vibratome sections were double-immunolabelled for seven different peptide combinations and subsequently analysed by high-resolution confocal laser scanning fluorescence microscopy. Attention was focused on axosomatic appositions, the occurrence and frequency of which were quantitatively estimated. Our analysis of double-immunolabelled sections demonstrated that some of the VIP- and some of the GRP-immunoreactive nerve cells and endings showed colocalization. Assuming, on the basis of literature data, that VIP and PHI are always colocalized at the cellular level, the five main cell classes in the SCN appeared to be interconnected, at least axosomatically, in the following reciprocal way: AVP ↔ VIP/PHI, AVP ↔ GRP, AVP ↔ somatostatin, somatostatin ↔ VIP/PHI, somatostatin ↔ GRP, VIP/PHI ↔ GRP, VIP/PHI/GRP ↔ GRP, VIP/PHI/GRP ↔ VIP/ PHI. In addition to this heterologous axosomatic innervation, these cell groups also showed substantial homologous innervation. Supported by electron microscope data from the literature showing the existence of axodendritic synapses for some of these peptide combinations, our findings strongly suggest that the rat SCN comprises a complex synaptic network with strong interactive capabilities, which is probably a requisite for its biological clock function.