Ultrastructural characterization of choline acetyltransferase-containing neurons in the basal forebrain of rat: evidence for a cholinergic innervation of intracerebral blood vessels

J Comp Neurol. 1986 Aug 1;250(1):81-92. doi: 10.1002/cne.902500108.


The ultrastructural morphology and vascular associations of cholinergic neurons in the horizontal limb of the nucleus of the diagonal band of Broca (nDBBhl) and amygdala of rat were determined by the immunocytochemical localization of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), the acetylcholine biosynthetic enzyme. Within the nDBBhl peroxidase reaction product was distributed throughout the cytoplasm of selectively labeled neuronal perikarya and dendrites. Labeled perikarya were characterized by an oval cell body (7-10 microns X 17-26 microns in diameter) in which was located a large nucleus and often a prominent nucleolus. Dendrites were by far the most numerous immuno-labeled profiles in the nDBBhl. The labeled dendrites had a cross-sectional diameter of 0.4-4.6 microns and contained numerous mitochondria and microtubules. Approximately 10% of all immunolabeled dendrites received synaptic contacts from unlabeled presynaptic boutons. In contrast to the relatively large number of ChAT-labeled dendrites within the nDBBhl, ChAT-positive axons were less frequently observed and immunolabeled axon terminals were never detected. The labeled axons had an outside diameter of 0.4-1.4 micron and were myelinated. The absence or relative paucity of immunolabeled terminals in the nDBBhl indicates that most if not all of the cholinergic perikarya within this nucleus are efferent projection neurons. The nDBB is known to have widespread projections to many areas of the neocortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. In the present study we examined the amygdala and observed many ChAT-labeled axon boutons. The immunolabeled varicosities contained numerous agranular vesicles and although ChAT-positive terminals were in direct contact with unlabeled neuronal elements within the amygdala, few if any synaptic densities were detected in a single plane of section. With respect to the vasculature, immunolabeled perikarya and dendrites within the nDBBhl and axon terminals in the amygdala were often in direct apposition to blood vessels. In many instances the labeled profile was observed lying directly on the basal lamina of a capillary endothelial cell. In no instance, however, were membrane densities observed. The presence of cholinergic neuronal elements contacting the vessel wall provides morphologic evidence suggesting that the neurogenic control of cerebral vasculature is in part mediated via a cholinergic mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / enzymology
  • Amygdala / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / innervation*
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Dendrites / enzymology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Immunochemistry
  • Male
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / anatomy & histology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase