Reinnervation of cerebellar Purkinje cells by climbing fibres surviving a subtotal lesion of the inferior olive in the adult rat. II. Synaptic organization on reinnervated Purkinje cells

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Jun 22;308(4):536-54. doi: 10.1002/cne.903080404.


A salient feature of the cerebellar Purkinje cells is the highly ordered distribution of their excitatory afferents on the dendritic tree. Climbing fibres synapse exclusively on the proximal dendrites, whereas parallel fibres articulate with the distal branches, the so-called spiny branchlets. This input organization is lost following the removal of climbing fibres. Such denervation results in the formation of a large number of new spines on the proximal dendrites, and these become contacted by sprouting parallel fibres, which thereby extend their domain of innervation. We have previously shown that the climbing fibres surviving a subtotal lesion of the inferior olive sprout and reinnervate neighbouring Purkinje cells. In the present ultrastructural study, we have investigated the features of Purkinje cells reinnervated by sprouting climbing fibres. The objectives were to examine the fine morphology of the newly formed synapses and to determine whether the modifications of Purkinje cell morphology and afferent organization are reversed by this reinnervation. Surviving climbing fibres were labelled by the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin (PHA-L) and immunohistochemically visualized by means of the gold-substituted silver peroxidase technique, 2 and 6 months after 3-acetylpyridine lesions of the inferior olive in adult rats. Sprouting climbing fibres and newly formed arborizations were identified in the light microscope, isolated, and cut in serial ultrathin sections for electron microscopic analysis. The labelled boutons belonging to newly formed terminal plexuses exhibited the typical morphological features of climbing fibre terminals, i.e., a high number of round synaptic vesicles and a few small mitochondria. Most frequently they formed asymmetric synapses on stubby thorns protruding from the proximal Purkinje cell dendrites. In some instances, however, the postsynaptic element consisted of long slender spines or spines showing an atypical morphology. A number of labelled boutons was also in contact with the perikarya of reinnervated Purkinje cells, either articulating with spines or synapsing directly on the smooth somatic surface. The proximal dendrites of denervated Purkinje cells were characterized by large numbers of spines, which were frequently postsynaptic to parallel fibres. By contrast, Purkinje cells reinnervated by the sprouting climbing fibres generally showed a lower number of spines on their proximal dendrites, indicating a reversal of this morphological change. The aberrant parallel fibre input was also decreased on reinnervated dendrites or had completely disappeared. Nevertheless, some reinnervated Purkinje cells showed the persistence of some parallel fibre synapses on their proximal dendrites. On occasion, climbing fibre and parallel fibre boutons synapsed on the same spine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Denervation
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Olivary Nucleus / cytology*
  • Olivary Nucleus / physiology
  • Purkinje Cells / cytology*
  • Purkinje Cells / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*