Electron microscopic study of GABA-immunoreactive neuronal processes in the superficial gray layer of the rat superior colliculus: their relationships with degenerating retinal nerve endings

J Neurocytol. 1991 Apr;20(4):262-76. doi: 10.1007/BF01235544.


GABA-immunoreactive neuronal elements were detected in the stratum griseum superficiale or superficial gray layer of the rat superior colliculus in an electron microscopic study, using postembedding immunocytochemistry with protein A-gold as a marker. In addition to neuronal somata, two types of GABA-immunoreactive neuronal processes were observed. Numerous profiles of axon terminals (1 microns in diameter) with clear round or pleomorphic synaptic vesicles and mitochondria were found to establish mostly symmetrical synaptic contacts with GABA-immunonegative dendrites of various diameters. Some axosomatic synapses could also be observed. The gold particle density in this axon terminal compartment was between seven and 13 times the background level. The stratum griseum superficiale also included GABA-immunoreactive dendrites, some of which contained clear synaptic vesicles. These dendritic profiles always formed the presynaptic component of dendrodendritic synaptic contacts. The density of the gold particles in the dendritic compartment, taken as a whole, was between three and 13 times the background level. Furthermore, the relationship between the GABA-immunoreactive neuronal elements and degenerating retinal nerve endings identified in the left stratum griseum superficiale following enucleation of the right eye was investigated after a 7-day survival period. The profiles of degenerating retinal nerve endings (0.7 microns in diameter) were found to be devoid of any specific labelling. Most of the retinal boutons established axodendritic synapses of the asymmetrical type with an immunonegative dendrite, which was also contacted in some cases by a GABA-immunopositive axon terminal. Other retinal endings were presynaptic to GABA-immunopositive dendritic profiles with synaptic vesicles, some of which were found to contact in turn an unlabelled dendrite, thereby completing serial synaptic relationships. More rarely, retinal endings formed the presynaptic component of possible axoaxonic synapses with GABA-positive terminals presumed to be axonic in nature. It can be concluded that the retinal input to the superficial gray layer often converges with a GABAergic axonal input on a dendritic target, the neurotransmitter specificity of which is unknown. In other cases, retinal terminals synaptically contact GABA-immunolabelled conventional and presynaptic dendrites and probably also some axon terminals; this might provide an anatomical substrate for the control of GABA release from these GABAergic processes. These results indicate that transmitter GABA plays an important role in retinocollicular transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Endings / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Retina / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / ultrastructure*
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / analysis*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid