Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Electron microscopy has been employed to analyze the normal maturationai sequence that characterizes the postnatal development of synaptic circuits in the ventrobasal (VB) and reticular (Rt) thalamic nuclei of rats at different ages (from birth to the end of the third postnatal week). Throughout the first postnatal week, similar signs of immaturity are observed in both nuclei, mainly consisting in scarcity of cytoplasmic organelles, presence of wide extracellular spaces, and absence of myelinated fibers. Several synaptic terminals are however present from birth, thus indicating that some of the afferents have already reached and contacted their thalamic target during embryonic life. Most of the terminals are small and contain only a few round, clear vesicles, and therefore their cytological features do not allow the identification of their origin. In particular, in both nuclei, terminals with flat vesicles and symmetric specialization are only rarely observed, and in VB the ascending terminals are not distinguishable from terminals of other sources as they are in adults. During the second postnatal week, progressive maturationai changes in VB and Rt lead to neurons having well-developed cytoplasmic organelles and to an elaborate neuropil containing myelinated fibers and synaptic terminals that are morphologically heterogeneous and resemble the adult ones. The permanence of growth cone-like profiles and of numerous somatic and dendritic protrusions, often contacted by synaptic terminals, indicates that a certain degree of reorganization is still taking place in both nuclei. By the end of the third postnatal week the synaptic organization of VB and Rt is indistinguishable from that observed in adults. This ultrastructural study shows that the appearance of the neuropil of VB and Rt and the morphological complexity of the synaptic arrangements characteristic of the adult rat are not present in neonates, but are gradually acquired during the first three postnatal weeks, and that they result from progressive modifications in circuit organization involving both pre- and postsynaptic elements.
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