Transmitter and ion channel profiles of neurons in the primate abducens and trochlear nuclei

Brain Struct Funct. 2021 Sep;226(7):2125-2151. doi: 10.1007/s00429-021-02315-7. Epub 2021 Jun 28.


Extraocular motoneurons initiate dynamically different eye movements, including saccades, smooth pursuit and vestibulo-ocular reflexes. These motoneurons subdivide into two main types based on the structure of the neuro-muscular interface: motoneurons of singly-innervated (SIF), and motoneurons of multiply-innervated muscle fibers (MIF). SIF motoneurons are thought to provoke strong and brief/fast muscle contractions, whereas MIF motoneurons initiate prolonged, slow contractions. While relevant for adequate functionality, transmitter and ion channel profiles associated with the morpho-physiological differences between these motoneuron types, have not been elucidated so far. This prompted us to investigate the expression of voltage-gated potassium, sodium and calcium ion channels (Kv1.1, Kv3.1b, Nav1.6, Cav3.1-3.3, KCC2), the transmitter profiles of their presynaptic terminals (vGlut1 and 2, GlyT2 and GAD) and transmitter receptors (GluR2/3, NMDAR1, GlyR1α) using immunohistochemical analyses of abducens and trochlear motoneurons and of abducens internuclear neurons (INTs) in macaque monkeys. The main findings were: (1) MIF and SIF motoneurons express unique voltage-gated ion channel profiles, respectively, likely accounting for differences in intrinsic membrane properties. (2) Presynaptic glutamatergic synapses utilize vGlut2, but not vGlut1. (3) Trochlear motoneurons receive GABAergic inputs, abducens neurons receive both GABAergic and glycinergic inputs. (4) Synaptic densities differ between MIF and SIF motoneurons, with MIF motoneurons receiving fewer terminals. (5) Glutamatergic receptor subtypes differ between MIF and SIF motoneurons. While NMDAR1 is intensely expressed in INTs, MIF motoneurons lack this receptor subtype entirely. The obtained cell-type-specific transmitter and conductance profiles illuminate the structural substrates responsible for differential contributions of neurons in the abducens and trochlear nuclei to eye movements.

Keywords: Extraocular motoneurons; GABA; Glutamate; Glycine; Internuclear neurons; Low-voltage activated calcium channels; Voltage-gated potassium channels.

MeSH terms

  • Abducens Nerve
  • Animals
  • Eye Movements
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Macaca
  • Motor Neurons
  • Oculomotor Muscles
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular
  • Trochlear Nerve


  • Ion Channels