It has been suggested that some glutamatergic synapses lack functional AMPA receptors. We used quantitative immunogold localization to determine the number and variability of synaptic AMPA receptors in the rat hippocampus. Three classes of synapses show distinct patterns of AMPA receptor content. Mossy fiber synapses on CA3 pyramidal spines and synapses on GABAergic interneurons are all immunopositive, have less variability, and contain 4 times as many AMPA receptors as synapses made by Schaffer collaterals on CA1 pyramidal spines and by commissural/associational (C/A) terminals on CA3 pyramidal spines. Up to 17% of synapses in the latter two connections are immunonegative. After calibrating the immunosignal (1 gold = 2.3 functional receptors) at mossy synapses of a 17-day-old rat, we estimate that the AMPA receptor content of C/A synapses on CA3 pyramidal spines ranges from <3 to 140. A similar range is found in adult Schaffer collateral and C/A synapses.
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