Evidence for glutamate, in addition to acetylcholine and GABA, neurotransmitter synthesis in basal forebrain neurons projecting to the entorhinal cortex

Neuroscience. 2001;107(2):249-63. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(01)00302-5.


Basal forebrain neurons play important parts in processes of cortical activation and memory that have been attributed to the cortically projecting, cholinergic neurons. Yet, non-cholinergic neurons also project to the cerebral cortex and also appear to participate in processes of cortical modulation and plasticity. GABAergic neurons compose a portion of the cortically projecting cell group, but do not fully account for the non-cholinergic cell contingent. In the present study in the rat, we investigated whether the non-cholinergic, non-GABAergic cell component might be composed of glutamatergic neurons. We examined afferents to the entorhinal cortex, which is known to be modulated by basal forebrain neurons and to be critically involved in memory. Dual immunofluorescent staining was performed for cholera toxin, as retrograde tracer, and phosphate-activated glutaminase, the synthetic enzyme for the neurotransmitter pool of glutamate. The retrogradely labeled cells were distributed across the basal forebrain through the medial septum, diagonal band, magnocellular preoptic area and substantia innominata. The major proportion (approximately 80%) of the retrogradely labeled cells was found to be immunopositive for phosphate-activated glutaminase. Equal minor proportions (approximately 40%) were immunopositive for choline acetyltransferase and glutamic acid decarboxylase. In other material dual-immunostained for neurotransmitter enzymes, approximately 95% of choline acetyltransferase- and approximately 60% of glutamic acid decarboxylase-immunopositive neurons were also immunopositive for phosphate-activated glutaminase. From these results it appears that a significant proportion of these cell groups, including their cortically projecting contingents, could synthesize glutamate together with acetylcholine or GABA as neurotransmitters and another proportion of cells could synthesize glutamate alone. Accordingly, as either co-transmitter or primary transmitter within basalocortical afferents, glutamate could have the capacity to modulate the entorhinal cortex and promote its role in memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / biosynthesis*
  • Animals
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Entorhinal Cortex / physiology*
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / biosynthesis*
  • Glutaminase / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / biosynthesis*


  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Glutaminase
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase
  • Acetylcholine