Synaptic plasticity of 5-hydroxytryptamine-immunoreactive terminals in the phrenic nucleus following spinal cord injury: a quantitative electron microscopic analysis

J Comp Neurol. 1997 Oct 6;386(4):613-24.


The present study was conducted to examine the plasticity of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)-immunoreactive terminals in the rat phrenic nucleus following an ipsilateral C2 spinal cord hemisection and 30-day survival period. A retrograde horseradish peroxidase (HRP) labeling technique was used to identify the phrenic motoneurons at the electron microscopic (EM) level. After employing a pre-embedding immunocytochemical technique, the ultrastructural characteristics of 5-HT-immunoreactive terminals were qualitatively and then quantitatively analyzed with a computerized morphometric system before and after injury in separate groups of rats. The results indicated that the majority of the 5-HT-labeled terminals formed axodendritic contacts, but some 5-HT-labeled terminals made axosomatic contacts. 5-HT terminals were associated with either asymmetrical or symmetrical synapses, and some displayed postsynaptic dense bodies. Approximately 2% of the 5-HT terminals had dense-core vesicles. Although the total number of labeled and unlabeled terminals in the phrenic nucleus was reduced after hemisection, the number of 5-HT terminals in the hemisected group was greater than that of the control group. Moreover, the total number and length of asymmetrical and symmetrical synaptic active zones per 5-HT terminal were significantly greater after injury. Finally, the total number of 5-HT terminals with multiple synapses was significantly greater in the hemisected group as compared to controls. It is possible that 5-HT synaptic plasticity may be part of the morphological substrate for the unmasking of the latent crossed phrenic pathway which mediates recovery of the ipsilateral hemidiaphragm paralyzed by C2 spinal cord hemisection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cordotomy
  • Female
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Motor Neurons / chemistry
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Phrenic Nerve / chemistry*
  • Phrenic Nerve / cytology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / chemistry
  • Presynaptic Terminals / immunology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Serotonin / analysis
  • Receptors, Serotonin / immunology*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / ultrastructure
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / surgery
  • Synapses / chemistry


  • Receptors, Serotonin