Stereological estimates of the basal forebrain cell population in the rat, including neurons containing choline acetyltransferase, glutamic acid decarboxylase or phosphate-activated glutaminase and colocalizing vesicular glutamate transporters

Neuroscience. 2006 Dec 28;143(4):1051-64. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.09.024. Epub 2006 Nov 3.


The basal forebrain (BF) plays an important role in modulating cortical activity and influencing attention, learning and memory. These activities are fulfilled importantly yet not entirely by cholinergic neurons. Noncholinergic neurons also contribute and comprise GABAergic neurons and other possibly glutamatergic neurons. The aim of the present study was to estimate the total number of cells in the BF of the rat and the proportions of that total represented by cholinergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons. For this purpose, cells were counted using unbiased stereological methods within the medial septum, diagonal band, magnocellular preoptic nucleus, substantia innominata and globus pallidus in sections stained for Nissl substance and/or the neurotransmitter enzymes, choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) or phosphate-activated glutaminase (PAG). In Nissl-stained sections, the total number of neurons in the BF was estimated as approximately 355,000 and the numbers of ChAT-immuno-positive (+) as approximately 22,000, GAD+ approximately 119,000 and PAG+ approximately 316,000, corresponding to approximately 5%, approximately 35% and approximately 90% of the total. Thus, of the large population of BF neurons, only a small proportion has the capacity to synthesize acetylcholine (ACh), one third to synthesize GABA and the vast majority to synthesize glutamate (Glu). Moreover, through the presence of PAG, a proportion of ACh- and GABA-synthesizing neurons also has the capacity to synthesize Glu. In sections dual fluorescent immunostained for vesicular transporters, vesicular glutamate transporter (VGluT) 3 and not VGluT2 was present in the cell bodies of most PAG+ and ChAT+ and half the GAD+ cells. Given previous results showing that VGluT2 and not VGluT3 was present in BF axon terminals and not colocalized with VAChT or VGAT, we conclude that the BF cell population influences cortical and subcortical regions through neurons which release ACh, GABA or Glu from their terminals but which in part can also synthesize and release Glu from their soma or dendrites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid / biosynthesis
  • Glutaminase / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / enzymology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Preoptic Area / cytology
  • Preoptic Area / enzymology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / enzymology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Septal Nuclei / cytology
  • Septal Nuclei / enzymology
  • Substantia Innominata / cytology
  • Substantia Innominata / enzymology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / biosynthesis


  • Slc17a8 protein, rat
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Proteins
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Glutaminase
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase
  • Acetylcholine