Properties of transmission at a giant glutamatergic synapse in cerebellum: the mossy fiber-unipolar brush cell synapse. Academic Article uri icon


  • 1. The synaptic activation by mossy fibers (MFs) of unipolar brush cells (UBCs) in the vestibular cerebellum (nodulus and uvula) was examined using patch-clamp recording methods in thin, rat cerebellar slices with Lucifer yellow-filled pipettes for subsequent fluorescence microscopic verification of the cell morphology. 2. UBCs were distinguished from adjacent granule cells in thin cerebellar slices in the uvula and nodulus regions by their larger soma diameters and short dendritic brush, greater whole-cell capacitance, and a prolonged, biphasic excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) to stimulation of MFs. 3. Thin-section transmission electron micrographs of the MF-UBC synapse displayed an unusually extensive area of synaptic apposition estimated to measure 12-40 microns2. The majority of UBCs was innervated by a single MF. At high magnification, individual clusters of presynaptic vesicles could be discerned, separated by regions of presynaptic membrane lacking vesicles, but apposed to continuous regions of postsynaptic density. Thus, after release, transmitter diffusion from the synaptic cleft must traverse considerable stretches of postsynaptic membrane before escape into extracellular space. In contrast, MF-granule cell synapses in these cerebellar regions resembled glutamate synapses in other brain regions in that the total synaptic area measured < or = 4 microns2. These synaptic junctions were flanked by short stretches of unspecialized plasma membrane, providing a short (0.5 micron) diffusional path from the site of neurotransmitter release to a branch point of the extracellular space. 4. The MF-evoked EPSC in UBCs was composed of a fast (10-90% rise time: 0.70 ms) and slow (10-90% rise time: 395 ms; 10-90% decay time: 3.1 s) component. The fast component was blocked by the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid/kainate (AMPA/KA) antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (10 microM) and displayed linear current-voltage (I-V) relations in the presence or absence of external magnesium. 5. The slow EPSC was also mediated by glutamate receptors, but in most neurons both AMPA/KA and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors contributed to the slow EPSC, with the contribution of NMDA receptors predominating in the majority of cells. Consequently, although all cells displayed linear I-V relations in Mg(2+)-free saline, cells in which the slow EPSC was predominently mediated by NMDA receptors exhibited voltage-dependent rectification in the presence of external Mg2+ (1 mM). 6. With increasing postnatal age (10-30 d), the contribution made to the slow EPSC by NMDA receptors declined, with a reciprocal increase in the contribution being made by AMPA/KA receptors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

publication date

  • July 1995