The glutamate-enriched cortical and thalamic input to neurons in the subthalamic nucleus of the rat: convergence with GABA-positive terminals.

Bevan MD
Francis CM
Bolam JP
Scientific Abstract

Neurons of the subthalamic nucleus play a key role in the normal physiology and the pathophysiology of the basal ganglia. In order to understand better how the activity of subthalamic neurons and hence the output of the basal ganglia are controlled, we have reexamined the topography and examined in detail the synaptology and neurochemical nature of the two major excitatory projections to the subthalamic nucleus, that from the cortex and from the parafascicular nucleus of the thalamus. The approach was to use anterograde neuronal tracing and postembedding immunocytochemistry for amino acid transmitters. In confirmation of previous findings the cortical and thalamic projections were topographically organized, although the topography was more finely organized, and the projections more extensive, than previously demonstrated. Cortical and thalamic terminals made asymmetrical synaptic contacts with the dendrites and spines of subthalamic neurons. The thalamic terminals contacted larger postsynaptic targets, and therefore presumably more proximal regions of subthalamic neurons, than did the cortical terminals. Quantitative analysis of the postembedding immunolabelled sections revealed that the cortical and thalamic terminals were significantly enriched in glutamate-immunoreactivity when compared to identified gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-positive terminals, supporting physiological studies that suggest that these projections use glutamate as their neurotransmitter. In addition a small population of nonanterogradely labelled terminals that formed asymmetrical synapses and were immunopositive for GABA were identified. A larger population of terminals that formed symmetrical synapses were also immunopositive for GABA and were probably derived from the globus pallidus. The latter type of terminal was found to make convergent synaptic input with cortical or thalamic terminals on the dendrites and spines of subthalamic neurons, indicating that the "indirect pathways" by which information flows through the basal ganglia converge at the level of individual neurons in the subthalamic nucleus.


1995.J. Comp. Neurol., 361(3):491-511.

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