Immunohistochemical localization of enkephalin in the human striatum: A postmortem ultrastructural study

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Within the basal ganglia, the functionally defined region referred to as the striatum contains a subset of GABAergic medium spiny neurons expressing the neuropeptide enkephalin. Although the major features of ultrastructural enkephalin localization in striatum have been characterized among various species, its ultrastructural organization has never been studied in the human brain. Human striatal tissue was obtained from the Maryland and Alabama Brain Collections from eight normal controls. The brains were received and fixed within 8 h of death allowing for excellent preservation suitable for electron microscopy. Tissue from the dorsal striatum was processed for enkephalin immunoreactivity and prepared for electron microscopy. General morphology of the dorsal striatum was consistent with light microscopy in human. The majority of neurons labeled with enkephalin was medium-sized and had a large nonindented nucleus with a moderate amount of cytoplasm, characteristic of medium spiny neurons. Of the spines receiving synapses in dorsal striatum, 39% were labeled for enkephalin and were of varied morphologies. Small percentages (2%) of synapses were formed by labeled axon terminals. Most (82%) labeled terminals formed symmetric synapses. Enkephalin-labeled terminals showed no preference toward spines or dendrites for postsynaptic targets, whereas in rat and monkey, the vast majority of synapses in the neuropil are formed with dendritic shafts. Thus, there is an increase in the prevalence of axospinous synapses formed by enkephalin-labeled axon terminals in human compared with other species. Quantitative differences in synaptic features were also seen between the caudate nucleus and the putamen in the human tissue. Synapse, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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