Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 326, Issue 2, pp 205–220

Structure of peripheral synapses: autonomic ganglia


    • Department of Anatomy & Histology, and Centre for NeuroscienceFlinders University
  • Judy L. Morris
    • Department of Anatomy & Histology, and Centre for NeuroscienceFlinders University

DOI: 10.1007/s00441-006-0233-1

Cite this article as:
Gibbins, I.L. & Morris, J.L. Cell Tissue Res (2006) 326: 205. doi:10.1007/s00441-006-0233-1


Final motor neurons in sympathetic and parasympathetic ganglia receive synaptic inputs from preganglionic neurons. Quantitative ultrastructural analyses have shown that the spatial distribution of these synapses is mostly sparse and random. Typically, only about 1%–2% of the neuronal surface is covered with synapses, with the rest of the neuronal surface being closely enclosed by Schwann cell processes. The number of synaptic inputs is correlated with the dendritic complexity of the target neuron, and the total number of synaptic contacts is related to the surface area of the post-synaptic neuron. Overall, most neurons receive fewer than 150 synaptic contacts, with individual preganglionic inputs providing between 10 and 50 synaptic contacts. This variation is probably one determinant of synaptic strength in autonomic ganglia. Many neurons in prevertebral sympathetic ganglia receive additional convergent synaptic inputs from intestinofugal neurons located in the enteric plexuses. The neurons support these additional inputs via larger dendritic arborisations together with a higher overall synaptic density. There is considerable neurochemical heterogeneity in presynaptic boutons. Some synapses apparently lack most of the proteins normally required for fast transmitter release and probably do not take part in conventional ganglionic transmission. Furthermore, most preganglionic boutons in the ganglionic neuropil do not form direct synaptic contacts with any neurons. Nevertheless, these boutons may well contribute to slow transmission processes that need not require conventional synaptic structures.


Autonomic ganglionSynapseUltrastructureQuantificationAmphibiansMammalsBirds

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© Springer-Verlag 2006