Functional morphology of insect neuronal cell-surface/glial contacts: the trophospongium

J Comp Neurol. 1986 Apr 1;246(1):113-28. doi: 10.1002/cne.902460108.


Ultrastructural studies were carried out on the surfaces of insect nerve cell bodies. Some of the neurons were identified, by using physiological criteria, before filling with dye. Their surface patterns were compared, to provide data needed for understanding dynamic relationships with glial cells, in the trophospongium. The data are also needed in connection with interpretation of electrical signals recorded from the somata and of their roles in integration and in learning and memory. The surfaces were found to be extremely complex and also varied, even for neurons of comparable size and function, as well as for different regions of the same neuron, suggesting that the surface is constantly changing as the neuron receives food and loses waste. There is a variety of cytoplasmic types of invagination of neuron somata by glial processes. The invaginations were classified into four easily recognized types: regular, chunky, filigree, and ridge (present only in axon hillock regions). Motor neurons also make reciprocal invaginations into the glial cells that surround them. Some of these extend for distances up to 40 microns from the surface. The effective surface area is increased, compared with that calculated for a smooth surface, as a result of the invaginations, by from as little as 5% for a small interneuron to as much as 12-fold for a large motor neuron. The axon hillock region of all types of neurons is heavily invaginated.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Ganglia / ultrastructure*
  • Grasshoppers / ultrastructure*
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Interneurons / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure