Serotonin nerve terminals in adult rat neocortex

Brain Res. 1975 Dec 26;100(3):563-88. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(75)90158-4.


Axonal processes which take up and retain exogenous tritiated serotonin ([3H]5-HT) have been demonstrated in the fronto-parietal cortex of adult rats, by means of high resolution radioautography. Prolonged topical superfusion with relatively high concentrations of ([3H]5-HT allowed detection of a maximal number of axonal reactions in the upper 3 layers of cortex. Comparison of results obtained from normal rats and animals pretreated with 6-hydroxydopamine or bearing midbrain raphe lesions established the specificity of this labeling. All reactive axons seemed to arise from the serotonin nerve cell bodies in groups B7 and B8 of Dahlström and Fuxe15. In electron microscope radioautographs, the serotonin fibers appeared as tenuous, naked axonal processes (0.1-0.5 mum in diameter) exhibiting small enlargements (0.7 mum in mean diameter) spaced at frequent intervals (1-3 mum). These boutons contained occasional mitochondria, small, round, agranular 'synaptic' vesicles and large granular vesicles. With axons, [3H]5-HT was concentrated in the boutons, and to a much lesser extent in connecting segments. This reactive pattern resembled that revealed by the fluorescence technique for endogenous serotonin. Preferential accumulations of the tracer by mitochondria and vesicular organelles indicated that these elements could sequester exogenous serotonin. Large granular vesicles were not necessarily visible in random thin sections of the labeled varicosities, and thus could not serve as the unique criterion for electron microscopic identification of 5-HT terminals. Moreover, these organelles are known to be present in other types of nerve endings. Topometric analysis of serial thin sections nevertheless demonstrated that large granular vesicles were potentially detectable in every 5-HT containing bouton, and also enabled extrapolation of their average number at 7 per varicosity. This low number makes it unlikely that large granular vesicles primarily represent storage sites. They could rather serve as a carrier for particle-bound enzymes essential to the local metabolism of serotonin or its precursors. A very small fraction of the serotonin varicosities exhibited the membrane differentiations of typical synaptic terminals. Extensive sampling in serial thin sections revealed junctional complexes in only 5% of labeled boutons, as opposed to 50% of unlabeled nerve endings in the surrounding neuropil. The data do not preclude the possibility that other monoaminergic neurons also share similar characteristics. It is probable that endogenous serotonin can be liberated from all axonal varicosities including those lacking strictu senso synaptic relationships. The overall configuration and ultrastructural features of cortical serotonin fibers suggest intrinsic dynamic properties which could assume particular significance in terms of function, plasticity and regrowth.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Stem / ultrastructure
  • Frontal Lobe / drug effects
  • Frontal Lobe / ultrastructure*
  • Hydroxydopamines / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Neural Pathways
  • Parietal Lobe / drug effects
  • Parietal Lobe / ultrastructure*
  • Rats
  • Serotonin / analysis
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure


  • Hydroxydopamines
  • Serotonin