The ultrastructure and synaptic organization of the presumed medullary pacemaker nucleus, nucleus c of the weakly electric mormyrid fish, Gnathonemus petersii has been investigated. Nucleus c consists of about 12-15 small (20-25 μm) neurones (P-cells), which form a group situated ventrally to the medullary relay nucleus and embedded in a neuropil of myelinated fibres and dendritic processes. The P-cells often exhibit an enhanced electron density of their cytoplasm and dendroplasm. They possess several dendrites of different diameter, a short, thin axon initial segment and a thickly myelinated axon running in dorsal direction. The pacemaker neurons are interconnected by complex electronic coupling, established by somatosomatic, dendrosomatic and dendrodendritic gap junctions. Perikarya and dendrites are frequently interconnected serially by gap junctions; dendrites showed sometimes triadic gap-junction arrangement. It is suggested that this high degree of electrotonic coupling amongst the pacemaker cells represents the first level of the highly ordered synchronization processes which characterize the electric discharge command system of Gnathonemus. Pacemaker cells receive synaptic input from club endings with mixed synapses and from bouton-like terminals with chemical synapses, both of them originating from medium-sized myelinated fibres and contacting mainly neuronal perikarya and dendritic processes. The axon initial segment receives only few synaptic inputs. Bouton-like terminals were found to be of two types according to their vesicle content, namely, boutons with ovoid, clear synaptic vesicles forming Gray type-1 synapses and boutons with pleomorphic clear synaptic vesicles forming Gray type-2 synapses. Different functional roles for the two types of boutons in modulating pacemaker cell activity are suggested.
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