Coexistence of GABA and glutamate in mossy fiber terminals of the primate hippocampus: an ultrastructural study

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Jan 8;303(2):177-92. doi: 10.1002/cne.903030202.


One of the links in the trisynaptic circuit of the hippocampus is the synapse between the mossy fibre terminals of dentate granule cells and CA3 pyramidal cells of Ammon's horn. This synapse has been physiologically characterized as excitatory, and there is pharmacological and immunohistochemical evidence that mossy fibre terminals utilize glutamate as a neurotransmitter. This study demonstrates the presence of GABA-immunoreactivity in mossy fibre axons and terminals of the monkey at the electron microscopic level. We combined Golgi impregnation to identify CA3 pyramidal neurones, with postembedding immunocytochemistry to characterize the inputs to the identified cells. GABA immunoreactivity was present in mossy fibre terminals that made synaptic contact with complex embedded spines of identified Golgi-impregnated CA3 pyramidal neurones. GABA immunoreactivity could be demonstrated in serial sections of the same mossy fibre terminals by using 3 different antisera raised against GABA. In serial sections, the mossy fibre terminals were shown to be immunoreactive for both glutamate and GABA. In contrast, glutamate immunoreactivity but not GABA immunoreactivity was found in other terminals that did not have the morphological characteristics of mossy fibre terminals. GABA immunoreactivity in mossy fibre terminals was also demonstrated in a human surgical specimen of hippocampus. The coexistence of an "excitatory" amino acid and of an "inhibitory" amino acid in the same "excitatory" nerve terminal raises the possibility of corelease of the two transmitters, suggesting that the control of hippocampal neural activity is more complex than hitherto suspected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Glutamates / analysis*
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Hippocampus / chemistry*
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Macaca / anatomy & histology
  • Macaca / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Endings / chemistry*
  • Nerve Endings / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Fibers / chemistry*
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / analysis*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / analysis*


  • Glutamates
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid