Anatomy and Embryology

, Volume 184, Issue 3, pp 225-243

First online:

The GABAergic cerebello-olivary projection in the rat

  • Barbara J. FredetteAffiliated withLaboratory of Neuromorphology, University of Connecticut
  • , Enrico MugnainiAffiliated withLaboratory of Neuromorphology, University of Connecticut

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Immunocytochemical detection of glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), the predominant biosynthetic enzyme of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), reveals the presence of a dense GABAergic innervation in all parts of the inferior olive. One brain center that provides a substantial projection to the inferior olive is the cerebellar nuclei, which contain many small GABAergic neurons. These neurons were tested as a source of GABAergic olivary afferents by combining retrograde tract tracing with GAD immunocytochemistry. As expected from previous studies, injections of wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) into the inferior olive retrogradely label many small neurons in the interposed and lateral cerebellar nuclei and the dorsal part of the lateral vestibular nucleus, and fewer neurons in the ventro-lateral region of the medial cerebellar nucleus. These projections are predominantly crossed and are topographically arranged. The vast majority, if not all, of these projection neurons are also GAD-positive. The relative contribution of this projection to the GABAergic innervation of the inferior olive was tested by lesion of the cerebellar nuclei, or the superior cerebellar peduncle. Within 10 days the lesion eliminates most GAD-immunoreactive boutons in the principal olive, the rostral lamella of the medial accessory olive, the ventrolateral outgrowth, and the lateral part of the dorsal accessory olive ventral fold. Thus, the effectiveness of this depletion demonstrates that the cerebellar nuclei provide most of the GABAergic innervation to regions of the inferior olive known to receive a cerebellar projection. Moreover, when the lateral vestibular nucleus is damaged, the dorsal fold of the dorsal accessory olive is depleted of GABAergic boutons. The synaptic relations that boutons of the GABAergic cerebello-olivary projection share with olivary neurons were investigated at the electron microscopic level by GAD-immunocytochemistry, anterograde degeneration of the cerebellar axons or anterograde transport of WGA-HRP. All of these methods confirm that GABAergic, cerebello-olivary axon terminals contain pleomorphic vesicles, and synapse on various portions of olivary neurons, and especially on dendritic spines within glomeruli, often in very close proximity to the gap junctions that characteristically couple the dendritic profiles. These results demonstrate four major points: that virtually all of the GABAergic, and presumably inhibitory, neurons of the cerebellar and dorsal lateral vestibular nuclei are projection neurons; that a large portion of the inferior olive receives GABAergic afferents from the cerebellar nuclei; that a portion of the dorsal accessory olive receives GABAergic afferents from the dorsal lateral vestibular nucleus; and that cerebello-olivary fibers often synapse near gap junctions, and therefore could influence electrical coupling of olivary neurons.