The high frequency electric emission of the weakly electric fish Sternarchus (Apteronotus) albifrons depends on the pacemaker activity of a specific brainstem nucleus located in the ventral part of the rhombencephalic reticular formation. The general morphology and fine structure of this nucleus has been investigated, with particular reference to its synaptic connections. Three neuronal components could be distinguished in the nucleus; namely large cells of 80-100 μm diameter, small cells of 30-50 μm diameter and bundles of thin, myelinated fibres. These elements are embedded in a network of thick myelinated fibres. The large cells have a few small and short dendrites whereas the small neurons have long branching dendrites. Large and small neurons possess thick myelinated axons, but only those of the latter show branching patterns and send collaterals which have intranuclear courses only. Two types of synaptic terminals have been found on both neurons: large club endings exclusively with gap junctions and small bouton-like terminals with polarized chemical synapses. Serial semi-thin and ultra-thin sections revealed that the large club endings belong to the pacemaker cells, whereas the small terminals are found in the thin myelinated axons of extranuclear origin. The findings indicate that the small neurons are connected 1) to each other and 2) to the large neurons, by way of their large myelinated axons. Both, small (pacemaker) as well as large (relay), neurons receive chemical synapses from myelinated fine fibers probably originating from higher encephalic centers. Thus, electric organ discharge rhythm can be modulated at the level of pacemaker as well as of the relay cells. No somatosomatic, dendrodendritic or dendrosomatic connections were found between large, small or large and small cells.
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