Demonstration of glutamate-like immunoreactivity at rat neuromuscular junctions by quantitative electron microscopic immunocytochemistry

Anat Embryol (Berl). 1993 Nov;188(5):501-13. doi: 10.1007/BF00190144.


Motor nerve terminals and adjacent structures in the extensor digitorum longus and soleus muscles of young adult rats were examined for their content of glutamate by means of quantitative, electron microscopic immunocytochemistry employing colloidal gold particles as markers. The level of glutamate immunoreactivity was stronger in the extensor digitorum longus terminals than in the soleus terminals. In both muscles the glutamate immunolabelling was stronger in the nerve terminals than in the synaptic clefts and the postsynaptic tissue separating the secondary clefts, but the differences were larger in the extensor digitorum longus than in the soleus muscle. The myofibrils of the soleus muscle were more densely labelled than those in the extensor digitorum longus muscle. The level of immunoreactivity was high in the Schwann cells of both muscles. By comparing the labelling intensity of motor nerve terminals with that of muscle fibres and hippocampal mossy fibres (compartments that have been analysed previously with respect to their glutamate content), the mean concentration of fixed glutamate in the extensor digitorum terminals was estimated to be in the range of 10-20 mmol/l. An association of glutamate immunoreactivity with synaptic vesicles was demonstrated in the most strongly labelled terminals. Whether these epitopes were localized in the interior of the vesicles or at their external surface could not be resolved with the present technique. These data indicate that motor nerve terminals contain glutamate, and that the enrichment of this amino acid is more pronounced in the terminals of the extensor digitorum longus muscle (a fast muscle) than in those of the soleus muscle (a slow muscle). A possible modulatory or trophic role of glutamate in the mammalian neuromuscular junction should be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glutamates / analysis*
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Hindlimb
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Muscles / chemistry*
  • Muscles / cytology
  • Nerve Endings / chemistry
  • Neuromuscular Junction / chemistry*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / analysis*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Glutamates
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamic Acid