Immunocytochemical localization of glutamic acid decarboxylase in normal and deafferented superior colliculus: evidence for reorganization of gamma-aminobutyric acid synapses

J Neurosci. 1983 Oct;3(10):2030-42. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.03-10-02030.1983.


There is circumstantial evidence that GABAergic synaptic terminals in the superior colliculus might become reorganized in response to a loss of the retinal innervation of this brain region. The present investigation tests this possibility by identifying gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons and their synaptic relationships with an immunocytochemical localization of the GABA-synthesizing enzyme, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), and by comparing these synaptic relationships in normal superior colliculus with those present 6 and 16 weeks after unilateral eye removal. In normal superior colliculus, light microscopy revealed a much denser concentration of GAD-positive reaction product in the superficial layers than in the intermediate and deep collicular layers. Most of this reaction product was contained within small, punctate structures, but GAD-positive somata and proximal dendrites also were observed. Electron microscopy showed that GAD was localized in numerous synaptic terminals, including those that were the presynaptic elements of dendrodendritic synapses. The vast majority of GAD-positive presynaptic elements formed symmetric synaptic junctions. In addition, GAD-positive profiles frequently were postsynaptic to unstained retinal terminals as well as presynaptic to unstained dendritic profiles and thus participated in serial synaptic relationships. Furthermore, both retinal and GAD-positive elements commonly were presynaptic to the same postsynaptic dendrite, and often these synaptic contracts were adjacent to each other. In deafferented specimens, profiles with the characteristics of retinal axon terminals were not observed, whereas there appeared to be no reduction of GAD-positive synaptic profiles. However, there was a marked and statistically significant increase in the proportion of GAD-positive presynaptic terminals that formed asymmetric synaptic contacts in superior colliculus deprived of retinal input. This change indicates that partial deafferentation induces a reorganization of GAD-positive synapses. The long-term presence of the GABA-synthesizing enzyme within reorganized synaptic terminals also suggests that such presynaptic elements could produce and, presumably, release neurotransmitter.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Denervation
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / analysis*
  • Immunochemistry
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Retina / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / analysis*
  • Superior Colliculi / enzymology
  • Superior Colliculi / ultrastructure
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / ultrastructure
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase