Spine-like astrocytic protrusions into large axon terminals

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Electron microscopic studies and three-dimensional graphic reconstructions from serial sections have shown that the large axon terminals of synaptic glomeruli in the ventrobasal nucleus of the rat are invaginated by spine-like protrusions from the astrocyte processes surrounding the glomeruli (“micro-trophospongium”). The astrocytic protrusions are similar in dimensions and internal morphology to the synapse-bearing dendritic excrescences that also invaginate the large axon terminals. Consequently astrocytic protrusions may be overlooked, or confused with dendritic excrescences sectioned at a non-synaptic level. The intimate neuronal—neuroglial relationship at such large axon terminals may reflect ion-exchange or metabolic interactions between the astrocytes and the axon terminal.

We thank the British Council and Wellcome Trust for support, and Professors J. Z. Young and E. G. Gray for criticism and advice.