Striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs) are contacted by glutamatergic axon terminals originating from cortex, thalamus and other regions. The striatum is also innervated by dopaminergic (DAergic) terminals, some of which release glutamate as a co-transmitter. Despite evidence for functional DA release at birth in the striatum, the role of DA in the establishment of striatal circuitry is unclear. In light of recent work suggesting activity-dependent homeostatic regulation of glutamatergic terminals on MSNs expressing the D2 DA receptor (D2-MSNs), we used primary co-cultures to test the hypothesis that stimulation of DA and glutamate receptors regulates the homeostasis of glutamatergic synapses on MSNs. Co-culture of D2-MSNs with mesencephalic DA neurons or with cortical neurons produced an increase in spines and functional glutamate synapses expressing VGLUT2 or VGLUT1, respectively. The density of VGLUT2-positive terminals was reduced by the conditional knockout of this gene from DA neurons. In the presence of both mesencephalic and cortical neurons, the density of synapses reached the same total, compatible with the possibility of a homeostatic mechanism capping excitatory synaptic density. Blockade of D2 receptors increased the density of cortical and mesencephalic glutamatergic terminals, without changing MSN spine density or mEPSC frequency. Combined blockade of AMPA and NMDA glutamate receptors increased the density of cortical terminals and decreased that of mesencephalic VGLUT2-positive terminals, with no net change in total excitatory terminal density or in mEPSC frequency. These results suggest that DA and glutamate signaling regulate excitatory inputs to striatal D2-MSNs at both the pre- and postsynaptic level, under the influence of a homeostatic mechanism controlling functional output of the circuit.
Keywords: Dopamine; Glutamate; Homeostasis; Spines; Striatum; Terminals.