Quantitative 3D Ultrastructure of Thalamocortical Synapses from the "Lemniscal" Ventral Posteromedial Nucleus in Mouse Barrel Cortex

Cereb Cortex. 2018 Sep 1;28(9):3159-3175. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhx187.


Thalamocortical synapses from "lemniscal" neurons of the dorsomedial portion of the rodent ventral posteromedial nucleus (VPMdm) are able to induce with remarkable efficacy, despite their relative low numbers, the firing of primary somatosensory cortex (S1) layer 4 (L4) neurons. To which extent this high efficacy depends on structural synaptic features remains unclear. Using both serial transmission (TEM) and focused ion beam milling scanning electron microscopy (FIB/SEM), we 3D-reconstructed and quantitatively analyzed anterogradely labeled VPMdm axons in L4 of adult mouse S1. All VPMdm synapses are asymmetric. Virtually all are established by axonal boutons, 53% of which contact multiple (2-4) elements (overall synapse/bouton ratio = 1.6). Most boutons are large (mean 0.47 μm3), and contain 1-3 mitochondria. Vesicle pools and postsynaptic density (PSD) surface areas are large compared to others in rodent cortex. Most PSDs are complex. Most synapses (83%) are established on dendritic spine heads. Furthermore, 15% of the postsynaptic spines receive a second, symmetric synapse. In addition, 13% of the spine heads have a large protrusion inserted into a membrane pouch of the VPMdm bouton. The unusual combination of structural features in VPMdm synapses is likely to contribute significantly to the high efficacy, strength, and plasticity of these thalamocortical synapses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Somatosensory Cortex / ultrastructure*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / ultrastructure