Group III metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR4,7,8) are widely distributed in the basal ganglia. Injection of group III mGluR agonists into the striatopallidal complex alleviates parkinsonian symptoms in 6-hydroxydopamine-treated rats. In vitro rodent studies have suggested that this may be partly due to modulation of synaptic transmission at striatopallidal and corticostriatal synapses through mGluR4 activation. However, the in vivo electrophysiological effects of group III mGluRs activation upon basal ganglia neurons activity in nonhuman primates remain unknown. Thus, in order to examine the anatomical substrates and physiological effects of group III mGluRs activation upon striatal and pallidal neurons in monkeys, we used electron microscopy immunohistochemistry to localize mGluR4, combined with local administration of the group III mGluR agonist L-AP4, or the mGluR4 positive allosteric modulator VU0155041, to assess the effects of group III mGluR activation on the firing rate and pattern of striatal and pallidal neurons in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-treated parkinsonian monkeys.
At the ultrastructural level, striatal mGluR4 immunoreactivity was localized in pre- (60%) and post-synaptic (30%) elements, while in the GPe, mGluR4 was mainly expressed pre-synaptically (90%). In the putamen, terminals expressing mGluR4 were evenly split between putative excitatory and inhibitory terminals, while in the GPe, most labeled terminals displayed the ultrastructural features of striatal-like inhibitory terminals, though putative excitatory boutons were also labeled. No significant difference was found between normal and parkinsonian monkeys. Extracellular recordings in awake MPTP-treated monkeys revealed that local microinjections of small volumes of L-AP4 resulted in increased firing rates in one half of striatal cells and one third of pallidal cells, while a significant number of neurons in both structures showed either opposite effects, or did not display any significant rate changes following L-AP4 application. VU0155041 administration had little effect on firing rates. Both compounds also had subtle effects on bursting and oscillatory properties, acting to increase the irregularity of firing. The occurrence of pauses in firing was reduced in the majority (80%) of GPe neurons after L-AP4 injection. Our findings indicate that glutamate can mediate multifarious physiological effects upon striatal and pallidal neurons through activation of pre-synaptic group III mGluRs at inhibitory and excitatory synapses in parkinsonian monkeys.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled ‘Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors’.