The distribution and synaptic arrangement of thyrotropin-releasing hormone-, substance P- and enkephalin-immunoreactive axonal boutons have been studied in the ventrolateral nucleus (Onuf's nucleus) of the upper sacral spinal cord segments in the cat. For this purpose, the peroxidase-antiperoxidase immunohistochemical technique was used. Immunoreactive axonal boutons were traced in complete series of sections in order to reveal synaptic contacts with the bundled dendrites of the ventrolateral nucleus. As judged from the cross-sectional diameter of the postsynaptic dendrites, the distribution of immunoreactive boutons was non-random. Enkephalin-immunoreactive axonal boutons, presumed to be mostly of segmental origin, displayed a rather restricted distribution to mainly (> 80%) medium-to-large dendrites. Thyrotropin-releasing hormone-immunoreactive boutons, that derive from supraspinal levels, were also found to impinge on medium-to-large dendrites (> 80%), indicating a proximal location within the dendritic trees. The skewness toward large postsynaptic dendrites was even more marked for thyrotropin-releasing hormone- than for enkephalin-immunoreactive boutons. Substance P-immunoreactive boutons, that are of either supraspinal or spinal origin, showed a more even distribution throughout the dendritic trees, including both thin distal branches and thick proximal dendrites. In view of the well-known fact that virtually all thyrotropin-releasing hormone-immunoreactive boutons in the ventral horn cocontain substance P (and serotonin) it was assumed that substance P-immunoreactive boutons in synaptic contact with the finest-calibre dendrites as well as most of those with a very proximal juxtasomatic location on the dendritic trees were of segmental origin, while those impinging on medium-to-large dendrites could be of either spinal or supraspinal origin. Fine-calibre dendrites (< 1 μm) represent about 25% of the dendritic branches in the ventrolateral nucleus, but receive, with the exception of substance P (8%), very little (< 3%) peptidergic or GABAergic (Ramírez-León and Ulfhake, 1993) input, although the degree of dendritic membrane covering by bouton profiles in the ventrolateral nucleus does not seem to vary much with the calibre of the postsynaptic dendrite (Ramírez-León and Ulfhake, 1993). Both substance P- and enkephalin-immunoreactive axonal boutons established synaptic contact with more than one dendrite. Furthermore, one and the same bouton could be found in contact with two dendrites that were coupled to each other by a dendro-dendritic contact of desmosomal or puncta adherentia type. This synaptic arrangement was, however, not seen among thyrotropin-releasing hormone-immunoreactive boutons, indicating that these axonal boutons act on a single postsynaptic element, while inputs intrinsic to the spinal cord can show a divergence also at the terminal level.

, , , , ,,
Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy
Department of Internal Medicine

Ramírez-León, V., Hökfelt, T., Cuello, A., Visser, T., & Ulfhake, B. (1994). Enkephalin-, thyrotropin-releasing hormone- and substance P-immunoreactive axonal innervation of the ventrolateral dendritic bundle in the cat sacral spinal cord: An ultrastructural study. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 7(4), 203–215. doi:10.1016/0891-0618(94)90013-2