Muscarinic cholinergic neurotransmission in the amygdala is critical for memory consolidation in emotional/motivational learning tasks, but little is known about the neuronal distribution of different receptor subtypes. Immunohistochemistry was used in the present investigation to localize the m2 receptor (M2R). Differential patterns of M2R-immunoreactivity (M2R-ir) were observed in the somata and neuropil of the various amygdalar nuclei. Neuropilar M2R-ir was strongest in rostral portions of the basolateral nuclear complex (BLC). M2R-positive (M2R+) somata were seen in low numbers in all nuclei of the amygdala. Most M2R+ neurons associated with the BLC were in the lateral nucleus and external capsule. These cells were nonpyramidal neurons that contained glutamatic acid decarboxylase (GAD), somatostatin (SOM), and neuropeptide Y (NPY), but not parvalbumin (PV), calretinin (CR), or cholecystokinin (CCK). Little or no M2R-ir was observed in GAD+, PV+, CR+, or CCK+ axons in the BLC, but it was seen in some SOM+ axons and many NPY+ axons. M2R-ir was found in a small number of spiny and aspiny neurons of the central nucleus that were mainly located along the lateral and ventral borders of its lateral subdivision. Many of these cells contained SOM and NPY. M2R+ neurons were also seen in the medial nucleus, including a distinct subpopulation of neurons that surrounded its anteroventral subdivision. The latter neurons were negative for all neuronal markers analyzed. The intercalated nuclei (INs) were associated with two types of large M2R+ neurons, spiny and aspiny. The small principal neurons of the INs were M2R-negative. The somata and dendrites of the large spiny neurons, which were actually found in a zone located just outside of the rostral INs, expressed SOM and NPY, but not GAD. These findings indicate that acetylcholine can modulate a variety of discrete neuronal subpopulations in various amygdalar nuclei via M2Rs, especially neurons that express SOM and NPY.
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