Age-related loss of axospinous synapses formed by two afferent systems in the rat dentate gyrus as revealed by the unbiased stereological dissector technique

Hippocampus. 1992 Oct;2(4):437-44. doi: 10.1002/hipo.450020411.


Previous attempts to elucidate whether a loss of hippocampal synapses occurs during aging provided conflicting results, possibly due to the unavailability, at the time, of unbiased methods for synapse quantitation. This study was designed to reexamine the issue by means of modern technical procedures that provide unbiased estimates of synaptic numbers. Groups of 14 young adult (5 months old) and 14 aged (28 months old) male Fischer-344 rats were compared. Synapses were examined in the middle (MML) and inner (IML) molecular layer of the hippocampal dentate gyrus, where synaptic contacts are predominantly formed by different systems of afferents, the entorhinal and commissural-associational fibers, respectively. The number of synapses per neuron was estimated with the aid of the stereological dissector technique. The results showed that the total number of synaptic contacts per neuron was significantly diminished in the MML (by 23.6%) and IML (by 22.7%) of aged rats relative to young adults. This age-related synaptic loss involved axospinous, but not axodendritic, junctions of the MML (-24.4%) and IML (-24.0%). Both perforated and nonperforated axospinous synapses (distinguished by a discontinuous or continuous postsynaptic density, respectively) exhibited an age-dependent decrease in numbers, though this decrease did not reach statistical significance in the case of perforated junctions of the IML. The observed age-related loss of axospinous synapses may underlie the reduction in the amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic potentials and the decline in functional synaptic plasticity detected in the dentate gyrus of senescent rats.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Afferent Pathways / growth & development
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*