Efferent synaptic connections of grafted dopaminergic neurons reinnervating the host neostriatum: A tyrosine hydroxylase immunocytochemical study

T. F. Freund, J. P. Bolam, A. BjöKlund, U. Stenevi, S. B. Dunnett, J. F. Powell, A. D. Smiths

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In adult rats with a unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine-induced destruction of the nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) pathway, grafts of embryonic substantia nigra can establish a new dopaminergic terminal fiber plexus in the previously denervated neostriatum and compensate for some of the behavioral deficits induced by the nigrostriatal lesion. In the present study the synaptic connections of the ingrowing DA fibers from the graft were analyzed ultrastructurally, using immunocytochemical localization of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), in animals whose lesion-induced motor asymmetry had been completely compensated for by the nigral grafts. In two of the animals, horseradish peroxidase-wheatgerm agglutinin conjugate was injected into the graft in order to trace possible reciprocal afferent connections to the graft from the host striatum. TH-immunoreactive axons from the graft were seen to make abundant symmetric synapses with neuronal elements in the host neostriatum. Between 85 and 90% of these synapses were on dendritic shafts and spines, and the rest were on neuronal perikarya. Two principal targets were identified: (i) dendrites of spiny neurons, the majority of which are likely to be striatal projection neurons; and (ii) the cell bodies of giant neurons, most (or perhaps all) of which are known to be cholinergic interneurons. The synapses made on dendritic spines, which constituted about 40% of all TH-positive synapses formed by the TH-positive neurons in the graft, resembled those seen in normal animals, both in that they made contacts with spine necks and in that they invariably were associated with an asymmetric TH-negative synapse contacting the spine head. The innervation of the giant cell perikarya, which constituted about 6% of all TH-positive synapses found, was strikingly abnormal in that the graft-derived TH-positive fibers formed dense pericellular 'baskets' selectively around the giant cell bodies. Such arrangements were never seen in the normal striatum, nor did they occur in the intact contralateral striatum in the grafted animals. It is proposed that this apparent dopaminergic hyperinnervation from the graft could provide a powerful inhibition of the cholinergic interneurons in the reinnervated host striatum, and that such an inhibitory mechanism could assist in the graft-induced functional recovery by potentiating the functional effects of DA synapses terminating on the spiny efferent neurons. This dual innervation may thus help to explain why restoration of only a small proportion of the striatal DA innervation by the graft is sufficient to induce complete compensation of, e.g., motor asymmetry in the lesioned rats. In the horseradish peroxidase-wheatgerm agglutinin-injected animals no labeled cells could be identified in the caudate-putamen, globus pallidus, or mesencephalic raphe of the host, which indicates that the grafted DA neurons function in the absence of several of the normal main inputs to nigral DA neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-616
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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