Postnatal maturation of Na+, K+, 2Cl- cotransporter expression and inhibitory synaptogenesis in the rat hippocampus: an immunocytochemical analysis

Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Jan;15(2):233-45. doi: 10.1046/j.0953-816x.2001.01854.x.


GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter, depolarizes hippocampal pyramidal neurons during the first postnatal week. These depolarizations result from an efflux of Cl- through GABAA-gated anion channels. The outward Cl- gradient that provides the driving force for Cl- efflux might be generated and maintained by the Na+, K+, 2Cl- cotransporter (NKCC) that keeps intracellular Cl- concentration above electrochemical equilibrium. The developmental pattern of expression of the cotransporter in the hippocampus is not known. We studied the postnatal distribution pattern of NKCC in the hippocampus using a monoclonal antibody (T4) against a conserved epitope in the C-terminus of the cotransporter molecule. We also examined the temporal relationships between the developmental pattern of NKCC expression and the formation of perisomatic GABAergic synapses. This study was aimed at determining, with antivesicular inhibitory amino acid transporter (VIAAT) antibodies, whether perisomatic GABAergic synapses are formed preferentially at the time when GABA is depolarizing. During the first postnatal week, NKCC immunolabelling was restricted to cell bodies in the pyramidal cell layer and in the strata oriens and radiatum. In contrast, at postnatal day 21 (P21) and in adult animals little or no labelling occurred in cell bodies; instead, a prominent dendritic labelling appeared in both pyramidal and nonpyramidal neurons. The ultrastructural immunogold study in P21 rat hippocampi corroborated the light-microscopy results. In addition, this study revealed that a portion of the silver-intensified colloidal gold particles were located on neuronal plasmalemma, as expected for a functional cotransporter. The formation of inhibitory synapses on perikarya of the pyramidal cell layer was a late process. The density of VIAAT-immunoreactive puncta in the stratum pyramidale at P21 reached four times the P7 value in CA3, and six times the P7 value in CA1. Electron microscopy revealed that the number of synapses per neuronal perikaryal profile in the stratum pyramidale of the CA3 area at P21 was three times higher than at P7, even if a concomitant 20% increase in the area of these neuronal perikaryal profiles occurred. It is concluded that, in hippocampal pyramidal cells, there is a developmental shift in the NKCC localization from a predominantly somatic to a predominantly dendritic location. The presence of NKCC during the first postnatal week is consistent with the hypothesis that this transporter might be involved in the depolarizing effects of GABA. The depolarizing effects of GABA may not be required for the establishment of the majority of GABAergic synapses in the stratum pyramidale, because their number increases after the first postnatal week, when GABA action becomes hyperpolarizing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Transport Systems*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • Carrier Proteins / analysis
  • Carrier Proteins / immunology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / chemistry
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sodium-Potassium-Chloride Symporters / analysis
  • Sodium-Potassium-Chloride Symporters / biosynthesis*
  • Sodium-Potassium-Chloride Symporters / immunology
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Vesicular Inhibitory Amino Acid Transport Proteins
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins*


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Antibodies
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Slc32a1 protein, rat
  • Sodium-Potassium-Chloride Symporters
  • Vesicular Inhibitory Amino Acid Transport Proteins
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins