The Journal of comparative neurology

Cholinergic innervation of pyramidal cells and parvalbumin-immunoreactive interneurons in the rat basolateral amygdala.

PMID 21246555


The basolateral nucleus of the amygdala receives an extremely dense cholinergic innervation from the basal forebrain that is critical for memory consolidation. Although previous electron microscopic studies determined some of the postsynaptic targets of cholinergic afferents, the majority of postsynaptic structures were dendritic shafts whose neurons of origin were not identified. To make this determination, the present study analyzed the cholinergic innervation of the anterior subdivision of the basolateral amygdalar nucleus (BLa) of the rat using electron microscopic dual-labeling immunocytochemistry. The vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) was used as a marker for cholinergic terminals; calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMK) was used as a marker for pyramidal cells, the principal neurons of the BLa; and parvalbumin (PV) was used as a marker for the predominant interneuronal subpopulation in this nucleus. VAChT(+) terminals were visualized by using diaminobenzidine as a chromogen, whereas CAMK(+) or PV(+) neurons were visualized with Vector very intense purple (VIP) as a chromogen. Quantitative analyses revealed that the great majority of dendritic shafts receiving cholinergic inputs were CAMK(+) , indicating that they were of pyramidal cell origin. In fact, 89% of the postsynaptic targets of cholinergic terminals in the BLa were pyramidal cells, including perikarya (3%), dendritic shafts (47%), and dendritic spines (39%). PV(+) structures, including perikarya and dendrites, constituted 7% of the postsynaptic targets of cholinergic axon terminals. The cholinergic innervation of both pyramidal cells and PV(+) interneurons may constitute an anatomical substrate for the generation of oscillatory activity involved in memory consolidation by the BLa.