The acetylcholine (ACh) innervation of thalamus arises mainly from the brainstem pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei. By using immunocytochemistry with a monoclonal antibody against whole rat choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), we quantified the distribution and characterized the ultrastructural features of these nerve terminals (axon varicosities) in the dorsolateral geniculate (DLG), parafascicular (PF), and reticular thalamic (Rt) nuclei of adult rat. The regional density of ACh innervation was the highest in PF (2.1 x 10(6) varicosities/mm(3)), followed by Rt (1.7 x 10(6)) and DLG (1.3 x 10(6)). In single thin sections, ChAT-immunostained varicosity profiles appeared comparable in shape and content in the three nuclei, but significantly larger in PF than in DLG and Rt. The number of these profiles displaying a synaptic junction was also much higher in PF than in DLG and Rt, indicating that all ChAT-immunostained varicosities in PF were synaptic, but only 39% in DLG and 33% in Rt. The hypothesis that glutamate corelease might account for the maintenance of the entirely synaptic ACh innervation in PF was refuted by the lack of colocalization of ChAT and vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2) in PF axon varicosities after dual immunolabeling. These data suggest that diffuse as well as synaptic transmission convey modulatory effects of the ACh input from brainstem to DLG and Rt during waking. In contrast, the entirely synaptic ACh input to PF should allow for a direct relaying of the information from brainstem, affecting basal ganglia function as well as perceptual awareness, including attention and pain perception.
Copyright 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.