Dopaminergic innervation of pyramidal cells in the rat basolateral amygdala

Brain Struct Funct. 2009 Feb;213(3):275-88. doi: 10.1007/s00429-008-0196-y. Epub 2008 Oct 7.


Dopaminergic (DA) inputs to the basolateral nuclear complex of the amygdala (BLC) are critical for several important functions, including reward-related learning, drug-stimulus learning, and fear conditioning. Despite the importance of the DA projection to the BLC, very little is known about which neuronal subpopulations are innervated. The present study utilized dual-labeling immunohistochemistry at the electron microscopic level to examine DA inputs to pyramidal cells in the anterior basolateral amygdalar nucleus (BLa) in the rat. DA axon terminals and BLa pyramidal cells were labeled using antibodies to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMK), respectively. Serial section reconstructions of TH-positive (TH+) terminals were performed to determine the extent to which these axon terminals formed synapses versus non-synaptic appositions in the BLa. Our results demonstrate that at least 77% of TH+ terminals form synapses in the BLa, and that 90% of these synapses are with pyramidal cells. The distal dendritic compartment received the great majority of these synaptic contacts, with CaMK+ distal dendrites and spines receiving one-third and one-half, respectively, of all synaptic inputs to pyramidal cells. Many spines receiving innervation from TH+ terminals also received asymmetrical synaptic inputs from putative excitatory terminals. In addition, TH+ terminals often formed non-synaptic appositions with axon terminals, most of which were putatively excitatory in that they were CaMK+ and/or made asymmetrical synapses. Thus, using CaMK as a marker, the present study demonstrates that pyramidal cells, especially their distal dendritic compartments, are the primary targets of dopaminergic inputs to the basolateral amygdala.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Amygdala / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Dendrites / metabolism
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Antibodies
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Dopamine