Diffuse and specific tectopulvinar terminals in the tree shrew: synapses, synapsins, and synaptic potentials

PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23781. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023781. Epub 2011 Aug 15.


The pulvinar nucleus of the tree shrew receives both topographic (specific) and nontopographic (diffuse) projections from superior colliculus (SC), which form distinct synaptic arrangements. We characterized the physiological properties of these synapses and describe two distinct types of excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) that correlate with structural properties of the specific and diffuse terminals. Synapses formed by specific terminals were found to be significantly longer than those formed by diffuse terminals. Stimulation of these two terminal types elicited two types of EPSPs that differed in their latency and threshold amplitudes. In addition, in response to repetitive stimulation (0.5-20 Hz) one type of EPSP displayed frequency-dependent depression whereas the amplitudes of the second type of EPSP were not changed by repetitive stimulation of up to 20 Hz. To relate these features to vesicle release, we compared the synapsin content of terminals in the pulvinar nucleus and the dorsal lateral geniculate (dLGN) by combining immunohistochemical staining for synapsin I or II with staining for the type 1 or type 2 vesicular glutamate transporters (markers for corticothalamic and tectothalamic/retinogeniculate terminals, respectively). We found that retinogeniculate terminals do not contain either synapsin I or synapsin II, corticothalamic terminals in the dLGN and pulvinar contain synapsin I, but not synapsin II, whereas tectopulvinar terminals contain both synapsin I and synapsin II. Finally, both types of EPSPs showed a graded increase in amplitude with increasing stimulation intensity, suggesting convergence; this was confirmed using a combination of anterograde tract tracing and immunocytochemistry. We suggest that the convergent synaptic arrangements, as well as the unique synapsin content of tectopulvinar terminals, allow them to relay a dynamic range of visual signals from the SC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Geniculate Bodies / metabolism
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Pulvinar / metabolism
  • Pulvinar / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synapsins / metabolism
  • Synaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology
  • Tupaia / physiology*
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Proteins / metabolism


  • Synapsins
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Proteins