A cone synaptic terminal in macaque fovea releases quanta of glutamate from approximately 20 active zones at a high rate in the dark. The transmitter reaches approximately 500 receptor clusters on bipolar and horizontal cell processes by diffusion laterally along the terminal's 50 microm(2) secretory face and approximately 2 microm inward. To understand what shapes transmitter flow, we investigated from electron photomicrographs of serial sections the relationship between Müller glial processes and cone terminals. We find that each Müller cell has one substantial trunk that ascends in the outer plexiform layer below the space between the "footprints" of the terminals. We find exactly equal numbers of Müller cell trunks and foveal cone terminals, which may make the fovea particularly vulnerable to Müller cell dysfunction. The processes that emerge from the single trunk do not ensheathe a single terminal. Instead, each Müller cell partially coats two to three terminals; in turn, each terminal is completely coated by two to three Müller cells. Therefore, the Müller cells that coat one terminal also partially coat the surrounding ( approximately six) terminals, creating a common environment for the cones supplying the center/surround receptive field of foveal midget bipolar and ganglion cells. Upon reaching the terminals, the trunk divides into processes that coat the terminals' sides but not their secretory faces. This glial framework minimizes glutamate transporter (EAAT1) beneath a terminal's secretory face but maximizes EAAT1 between adjacent terminals, thus permitting glutamate to diffuse locally along the secretory face and inward toward inner receptor clusters but reducing its effective spillover to neighboring terminals.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.