Ultrastructural characterization of the acetylcholine innervation in adult rat neostriatum

Neuroscience. 1996 Apr;71(4):937-47. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(95)00507-2.


The ultrastructural features of acetylcholine axon terminals (varicosities) in adult rat neostriatum were characterized by electron microscopy after immunostaining with a sensitive monoclonal antibody against rat choline acetyltransferase. Several hundred single sections from these varicosities were analysed for shape, size and content, presence of a synaptic membrane specialization, and composition of the microenvironment. An equivalent number of unlabeled varicosities selected at random from the same micrographs were similarly examined. The immunostained varicosity profiles were relatively small and seldom showed a junctional membrane specialization. Stereological extrapolation to the whole volume of these varicosities indicated that less than 10% were synaptic. Far fewer dendritic spines were juxtaposed to these predominantly asynaptic profiles than to their unlabeled counterparts. This difference seemed imputable to the low synaptic incidence of the acetylcholine varicosities and was consistent with the view that these are randomly distributed in relation to surrounding elements. The bulk of the data was suggestive of volume transmission. This raised the possibility that, in such a densely innervated area, a basal level of acetylcholine is permanently maintained around all cellular elements, contributing to the modulatory properties of this transmitter. This basal level of acetylcholine could also serve as a regulatory signal controlling the expression of different receptor subtypes in neurons, glia and blood vessels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Axons / chemistry
  • Axons / enzymology
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / analysis
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neostriatum / chemistry*
  • Neostriatum / enzymology
  • Neostriatum / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / enzymology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure


  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholine