The development of cholecystokinin-immunoreactive (CCK-IR) interneurons in the rat hippocampus was studied using immunocytochemical methods at the light and electron microscopic levels from early (P0-P8) to later postnatal (P12-P20) periods. The laminar distribution of CCK-IR cell bodies changed considerably during the studied period, which is suggested to be due to migration. CCK-IR cells appear to move from the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus to their final destination at the stratum granulosum/hilus border, and tend to concentrate in the distal third of stratum radiatum in CA1-3. The density of CCK-IR cells is rapidly decreasing during the first 4 postnatal days without any apparent reduction in their total number, therefore it is due to the pronounced growth of hippocampal volume in this period. Axons of CCK-IR interneurons formed symmetrical synapses already at P0, and by far the predominant targets were dendrites of presumed principal cells in all subfields of the hippocampus. These axon arbors began to concentrate around pyramidal cell bodies only at P8, at earlier ages CCK-IR axons crossed stratum pyramidale at right angles, and gave rise to varicose collaterals only outside this layer. The dendrites and somata of CCK-IR cells received synapses already at P0, but those were mostly symmetrical, apart from a few immature asymmetrical synapses. At P4, mature asymmetrical synapses with considerable amounts of synaptic vesicles were already commonly encountered. Thus, the innervation of CCK-IR interneurons apparently develops later than their output synapses, suggesting that they may be able to release transmitter before receiving any considerable excitatory drive. We conclude that CCK-IR cells represent one, if not the major, interneuron type that assists in the maturation of glutamatergic synapses (activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors) via GABAergic depolarization of principal cell dendrites, and may contribute to the generation of giant depolarizing potentials. CCK-IR cells will change their function to perisomatic hyperpolarizing inhibition, as glutamatergic transmission in the network becomes operational.
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