The precise stimulus specificity of striate cortical neurons is strongly influenced by processes involving gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). In the visual cortex of the monkey most afferents from the lateral geniculate nucleus terminate in layer IVC. We identified a type of smooth dendritic neuron (clutch cell) that was immunoreactive for GABA, and whose Golgi-impregnated dendrites and axon were largely restricted to layer IVCβ. The slightly ovoid somata were 8-12μm by 12-15μm and the dendritic field was often elongated, extending 80-200 μm in one dimension. The axonal field was 100-150 μm in diameter and densely packed with large bulbous boutons. Although mainly located in IVCβ both the dendritic and axonal processes entered IVCα. Fine structural features of GABA-immunoreactive and-impregnated clutch cells and impregnated spiny stellate cells were compared. Clutch cells had more cytoplasm, more densely packed mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum, and made type II as opposed to type I synapses. A random sample of 159 elements postsynaptic to three clutch cells showed that they mainly terminated on dendritic shafts (43.8-58.5%) and spines (20.8-46.3%), rather than somata (10-17%). The majority of the postsynaptic targets were characteristic of spiny stellate cells. This was directly demonstrated by studying synaptic contacts between an identified GABA positive clutch cell and the dendrites and soma of an identified spiny stellate cell. The termination of clutch cells mainly on dendrites and spines of spiny stellate cells suggests that they interact with other inputs to the same cells. Following an electrolytic lesion in the ipsilateral lateral geniculate nucleus we examined the distribution of degenerating terminals on three identified spiny stellate neurons in layer IVCβ. Out of eight synapses from the lateral geniculate nucleus one was on a dendritic shaft, the rest on spines. Only a small fraction of all synapses on the cells were from degenerating boutons. A clutch cell within the area of dense terminal degeneration was not contacted by terminals from the lateral geniculate nucleus. The results show that layer IVC in the monkey has a specialized GABAergic neuron that terminates on spiny stellate cells monosynaptically innervated from the lateral geniculate nucleus. Possible functions of clutch cells may include inhibitory gating of geniculate input to cortex; maintenance of the antagonistic subregions in the receptive fields; and the creation from single opponent of double colour opponent receptive fields.
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