Striatal dopamine deficiency in weaver mutant mice is associated with loss of mesencephalic dopamine neurons. The maximum dopamine concentration in the striatum of weaver mutants is found on postnatal day 20, when it represents 50% of the control value. By day 180, it declines to 25% of the control value. Correspondingly, the number of nigral dopamine neurons is 58% of the normal number on day 20 and becomes 31% of the normal value by day 90. The aim of the present study was to examine whether dopamine axon terminals in the weaver striatum establish synaptic connections with postsynaptic neurons at the time when striatal dopamine concentration is at its peak value (i.e. on postnatal day 20), and if so, to compare the profile of synaptic connectivity of dopamine axon terminals found in the striatum of normal mice with that of heterozygous and homozygous weaver mutants. To that end, 20-day-old weaver homozygotes, along with age-matched weaver heterozygotes and wild-type mice were studied by electron microscopy after immunocytochemical labelling for tyrosine hydroxylase. A single micrograph of each of 1543 dopamine axon terminals was examined in total in the three genotypes; quantitative analyses of the relations of tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive nerve terminals were carried out in the dorsolateral striatum, which receives the dopamine projection from the substantia nigra proper. In all three genotypes, junctional contacts formed by tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive nerve terminals in the striatum were predominantly of the symmetrical type. In wild-type and heterozygous mice, the majority of contacts (92% and 91% respectively) were formed with dendrites and spines. In weaver mutant mice, the majority of contacts (87%) were also with dendrites and spines, but the proportion of axosomatic contacts was double that found in normal animals. The proportions of contacts that displayed junctional membrane specializations in single sections were 27% in wild-type mice, 29% in weaver heterozygotes, and 17% in homozygous weaver mutants. Taking into consideration that the plane of the section might not always have included the synaptic specialization, a stereological formula was applied. It was estimated that 85-89% of the contacts may be truly junctional in the striatum of normal and heterozygous mice, whereas only 53% may be junctional in the striatum of weaver homozygotes. The reduced incidence of junctional synapses in weaver homozygotes may suggest either inadequate synaptogenesis, or an early loss of synapses after their formation, or both. Further, the increased incidence of axosomatic contacts may be indicative of synaptic immaturity, as such contacts are commonly seen in early developmental stages. Our results support the developmental nature of the nigrostriatal deficit in weaver mutants, since the synaptic investment of striatal neuronal elements by dopamine afferents appears to be immature at the time when nigrostriatal synaptogenesis is normally complete.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology