A quantitative ultrastructural comparison of alpha and gamma motoneurons in the thoracic region of the spinal cord of the adult cat

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Abstract

The cell bodies of motoneurons supplying both the levator costae and external intercostal muscles were identified after retrograde labelling with horseradish peroxidase. A quantitative ultrastructural comparison of cell bodies of large (greater than 40 microns) and small (less than 30 microns) diameter revealed that the intracellular appearance of large and small motoneurons was similar. However, small motoneurons had less than half the synaptic terminal frequency or cover of large motoneurons. Furthermore, only synapses of the S- and F-type were seen on small motoneurons, while S- T- F- and C-type terminals were consistently seen on large motoneurons. The variation between individual small motoneurons for various aspects of their synaptic features was more than twice that found for large motoneurons. No correlation between small motoneuronal ultrastructure and cell body diameter was found, although scatter diagrams of synaptic terminal cover against cell body size indicated the presence of two groups of small motoneurons: one with relatively high values for synaptic cover and the other with relatively low values. On the basis of the similarity of their cell body diameters to those of electrophysiologically identified alpha and gamma motoneurons, it is concluded that the large and small motoneurons examined in the present study are alpha and gamma motoneurons respectively. The synaptic difference found between alpha and gamma motoneurons is discussed in relation to both their different functional properties and the different natures of their respective peripheral targets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-72
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume147
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1986
Externally publishedYes

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