Synapses formed by normal and abnormal hippocampal mossy fibers
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The axon terminals (mossy fibers) of hippocampal dentate granule cells form characteristic synaptic connections with large spines or excrescences of both hilar mossy cells and CA3 pyramidal neurons. Interneurons of the hilar region and area CA3 are also prominent targets of mossy fibers. The tracing of biocytin-filled mossy fibers and immunolabeling of target cells with interneuron markers has revealed that the majority of mossy fiber synapses project to γ aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic inhibitory interneurons rather than to excitatory principal cells, although the functional implications of these quantitative differences are unclear. Following a brief description of the “classical” mossy fiber synapse on excrescences of CA3 pyramidal cells, the present review focuses on the contacts formed between granule cells and GABAergic interneurons, both normally and after synaptic reorganization. In response to deafferentation of mossy cell target cells, which include both granule cells and interneurons, mossy fibers “sprout” new axon collaterals that form a band of supragranular mossy fibers in the inner molecular layer of the dentate gyrus. Although most newly formed recurrent mossy fibers establish synapses with granule cells, there is an apparently convergent input of new mossy fibers onto GABA-immunoreactive interneuron dendrites that traverse the inner molecular layer. These mossy fiber-interneuron synapses in the dentate gyrus are observed in chronically epileptic rats and may be the structural correlate of the granule cell hyperinhibition observed in these animals in vivo. Together, the findings reviewed here establish mossy fiber synapses as an important component of inhibitory circuits in the hippocampus.