Axospinous synaptic subtype-specific differences in structure, size, ionotropic receptor expression, and connectivity in apical dendritic regions of rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons

J Comp Neurol. 2009 Jan 20;512(3):399-418. doi: 10.1002/cne.21896.


The morphology of axospinous synapses and their parent spines varies widely. Additionally, many of these synapses are contacted by multiple synapse boutons (MSBs) and show substantial variability in receptor expression. The two major axospinous synaptic subtypes are perforated and nonperforated, but there are several subcategories within these two classes. The present study used serial section electron microscopy to determine whether perforated and nonperforated synaptic subtypes differed with regard to their distribution, size, receptor expression, and connectivity to MSBs in three apical dendritic regions of rat hippocampal area CA1: the proximal and distal thirds of stratum radiatum, and the stratum lacunosum-moleculare. All synaptic subtypes were present throughout the apical dendritic regions, but there were several subclass-specific differences. First, segmented, completely partitioned synapses changed in number, proportion, and alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) receptor expression with distance from the soma beyond that found within other perforated synaptic subtypes. Second, atypically large, nonperforated synapses showed N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor immunoreactivity identical to that of perforated synapses, levels of AMPA receptor expression intermediate to that of nonperforated and perforated synapses, and perforated synapse-like changes in structure with distance from the soma. Finally, MSB connectivity was highest in the proximal stratum radiatum, but only for those MSBs composed of nonperforated synapses. The immunogold data suggest that most MSBs would not generate simultaneous depolarizations in multiple neurons or spines, however, because the vast majority of MSBs are comprised of two synapses with abnormally low levels of receptor expression, or involve one synapse with a high level of receptor expression and another with only a low level.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure*
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Receptors, AMPA / ultrastructure*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / ultrastructure*
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate