Date: 18 Jun 2008

Diverse Synaptic Terminals on Rat Stapedius Motoneurons


Stapedius motoneurons (SMN) mediate the contraction of the stapedius muscle, which protects the inner ear from injury and reduces the masking effects of background noise. A variety of inputs to SMNs are known to exist, but their terminal ultrastructure has not been investigated. We characterized the synaptic terminals on retrogradely labeled SMNs found just ventromedial to the facial motor nucleus. About 80% of the terminals contained round synaptic vesicles. One type (Sm Rnd) had small, round vesicles filling the terminal with occasional dense core vesicles and formed an asymmetric synapse. Sm Rnd terminals were small with lengths of apposition to the SMN less than 3 μm. Partial reconstructions from serial sections demonstrated that these terminals formed up to three synapses per terminal. Another terminal type (Lg Rnd) had large, round vesicles and asymmetric synapses. Most Lg Rnd terminals were small but some were extensive, e.g., abutting the SMN for up to 10 μm. One of these terminals formed at least seven synapses. Another terminal type (Pleo) had pleomorphic vesicles and symmetric active zones that, in some cases, were invaginated by spines from the SMN. A fourth uncommon terminal type (Het Rnd) had round vesicles of heterogeneous sizes and asymmetric synapses. A fifth rare terminal type (Cist) had large, round vesicles and an accompanying subsurface cistern in the SMN. These were generally the same kinds of terminals found on other motoneurons, but the high proportion of round vesicle synapses indicate that SMNs receive mostly excitatory inputs.

Presented at the February 2007 ARO Midwinter Meeting, Denver, Colorado.