Ultrastructure of synapses from the pretectum in the A-laminae of the cat's lateral geniculate nucleus

J Comp Neurol. 1993 Aug 22;334(4):618-30. doi: 10.1002/cne.903340409.


We have recently shown in cats that many neurons projecting to the lateral geniculate nucleus from the pretectum use gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) as their neurotransmitter. We sought to determine the morphology of synaptic terminals and synapses formed by these pretectal axons and the extent to which they resemble other GABAergic terminals found in the geniculate neuropil (i.e., from geniculate interneurons and cells of the nearby perigeniculate nucleus). To do this, we labeled a population of pretectal axons with the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin and analyzed the morphology and synaptology of labeled pretectal terminals in the A-laminae of the cat's lateral geniculate nucleus. The pretectal projection, which arises primarily from the nucleus of the optic tract (NOT), provides synaptic innervation to elements in the geniculate neuropil. The labeled NOT terminals are densely packed with vesicles, contain dark mitochondria, and form symmetrical synaptic contacts. These are characteristics of the F1 type of terminal, and we know from other studies that GABAergic axon terminals from interneurons and perigeniculate cells also give rise to F1 terminals. We compared our population of NOT terminals with labeled perigeniculate and unlabeled F1 terminals selected from the geniculate neuropil and found that all three populations share many morphological characteristics. Both qualitative and quantitative assessments of the pretectal terminals suggest that these are a type of F1 terminal. Most pretectal terminals selectively form synapses onto geniculate profiles that contain irregularly distributed vesicles and dark mitochondria and that are postsynaptic to other types of terminals. These postsynaptic targets thus exhibit features of another class of inhibitory, GABAergic terminal known as F2 terminals, which are the specialized appendages of geniculate interneurons. Pretectal inputs, being GABAergic, may thus serve to inhibit local interneuronal outputs. Pretectal axons also innervate the perigeniculate nucleus, in which the only targets are the other main type of inhibitory, GABAergic neurons. These results suggest that the pretectum may facilitate retinal transmission through the lateral geniculate nucleus by providing inhibition to the local inhibitory cells: the interneurons and probably perigeniculate cells. This would serve to release geniculate relay cells from inhibition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / chemistry
  • Cats / anatomy & histology*
  • Cats / metabolism
  • Geniculate Bodies / chemistry
  • Geniculate Bodies / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Endings / chemistry
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / analysis*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid