Monoamine synaptic structure and localization in the central nervous system

J Electron Microsc Tech. 1990 May;15(1):20-33. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1060150104.


The monoamines dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, and serotonin as well as the diamine histamine have a widespread distribution in the central nervous system within synaptic terminals and nonsynaptic varicosities. In certain regions of the central nervous system the monoamines are contained in varicosities that have no synaptic specialization associated with them, suggesting a possible neuromodulatory role for some of the monoamines. The majority of monoamine labelled structures are synaptic terminals which are characterized by the presence of small, clear vesicles (40-60 nm) and large, granular vesicles (70-120 nm) within the terminal. A third population of vesicles--small, granular vesicles--which are visible only after histochemical staining, are probably the equivalent of the small, clear vesicles present after either autoradiographic or immunohistochemical labelling. Most monoamine containing terminals contact dendrites and dendritic spines and, less frequently, neuronal somata and other axons. Both asymmetrical and symmetrical membrane specializations are associated with monoaminergic terminals; however, asymmetrical contacts are the most frequent type found. These ultrastructural results indicate that monoamine containing terminals and varicosities in general share many common morphological features, but still have diverse functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / analysis*
  • Central Nervous System / ultrastructure*
  • Histamine / analysis
  • Humans
  • Serotonin / analysis*
  • Synapses / analysis
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*


  • Catecholamines
  • Serotonin
  • Histamine