Unipolar brush cells (UBCs) are a class of small neurons that are densely concentrated in the granular layers of the vestibulocerebellar cortex and dorsal cochlear nucleus. The UBCs form giant synapses with individual mossy fibre rosettes on the dendrioles which make up their brush formations and are provided with numerous, unusual non-synaptic appendages. In accord with the glutamatergic nature of mossy fibres, our previous post-embedding immunocytochemical studies indicated that various ionotropic glutamate receptor subunits are localized at the post-synaptic densities of the giant synapses, whereas the non-synaptic appendages are immunonegative. On the contrary, the metabotropic glutamate receptors mGluR1α and mGluR2/3 are situated at the non-synaptic appendages and are lacking at the post-synaptic densities. Other authors, however, have shown that antibodies to these metabotropic receptors stain both appendages and post-synaptic densities. In the present study, we have re-evaluated the distribution of metabotropic glutamate receptors in the UBCs of the cerebellum and the cochlear nuclear complex by light and electron microscopic pre-embedding immunocytochemistry with subtype-specific antibodies. We confirm that UBCs dendritic brushes are densely immunostained by antibody to mGluR1α particularly in the cerebellum and that antibody to mGluR2/3 labels at least a percentage of the UBC brushes in both the cerebellum and cochlear nuclei. At the ultrastructural level, it appears that mGluR1α and mGluR2/3 immunoreactivities are not associated with the post-synaptic densities of the giant mossy fibre-UBC synapses, but instead are concentrated on the non-synaptic appendages of the cerebellar UBCs. The non-synaptic appendages, therefore, may be an important avenue for regulating the excitability of UBCs and mediating glutamate effects on their still unknown intracellular signal transduction cascades. We also show that the pre-synaptic densities of UBC dendrodendritic junctions are mGluR2/3 positive. As previously demonstrated, antibodies to mGluR1α and mGluR2/3 label subsets of Golgi cells. Antibody to mGluR5 does not stain UBCs in the cerebellum and cochlear nucleus and reveals the somatodendritic compartment of Golgi cells situated in the core of the cerebellar granular layer, whilst cochlear nucleus Golgi cells are mGluR5 negative.

Brain Cell Biology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Jaarsma, D., Dino, M., Ohishi, H., Shiqemoto, R., & Mugnaini, E. (1998). Metabotropic glutamate receptors are associated with non-synaptic appendages of unipolar brush cells in rat cerebellar cortex and cochlear nuclear complex. Brain Cell Biology, 303–327. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/14585