Synapses on axons of sympathetic preganglionic neurons in rat and rabbit thoracic spinal cord

Ida J. Llewellyn‐Smith*, Paul Pilowsky, Jane B. Minson, John Chalmers

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    29 Citations (Scopus)


    Axosomatic and axodendritic synapses occur on sympathetic preganglionic neurons, but it is not yet known whether their axons receive synaptic input, which could be particularly effective at regulating sympathetic outflow. Here, we examined retrogradely labelled sympathetic preganglionic axons to see if they received synapses. Cholera toxin B subunit (CTB) or CTB conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (CTB‐HRP) was used to label neurons projecting to the rat or rabbit superior cervical ganglion, the rat adrenal medulla, or the rabbit stellate ganglion. At the light microscopic level, small groups of CTB‐immunoreactive axons travelled through the ventral horn near its lateral boundary, with occasional axons taking a more medial course. The axons passed through the ventrolateral funiculus to exit at the ventral roots. In parasagittal section, a few axons branched within the ventral horn, sending processes rostrally and caudally for short distances before they turned ventrally to exit the spinal cord. At the ultrastructural level, CTB‐immunoreactive rat and rabbit sympathetic preganglionic axons were almost exclusively unmyelinated. In contrast, labelling with CTB‐HRP revealed both myelinated and unmyelinated axons in the ventral horn, the ventrolateral white matter, and the ventral roots. CTB‐HRP also allowed the detection of the initial segment of a sympathetic preganglionic axon. Synapses, with vesicles clustered presynaptically and membrane specializations postsynaptically, were found on some unmyelinated CTB‐immunoreactive axons. Occasional axons received several synapses. Synapses were most common on CTB‐containing axons just ventral to the intermediolateral cell column. One synapse was found on an axon within 2 μm of its origin from a proximal dendrite. Rare synapses were found several hundred micrometers ventral to the intermediolateral cell column. One branching axon had synapses just below the branch point on both the main axon and the axonal branch. These findings indicate an extensive synaptic input to the axons of at least some sympathetic preganglionic neurons. These axoaxonic synapses could have a profound effect on sympathetic activity. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)193-208
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


    • blood pressure
    • immunocytochemistry
    • intermediolateral cell column
    • retrograde tracing
    • ultrastructure


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