The medial superior olive (MSO) was studied in normal animals to determine the types of synaptic endings and their distribution over the surface of MSO neurons. Unilateral lesions were made in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) of experimental animals to determine the source of at least one synaptic type in the MSO. The surfaces of MSO neurons in normal animals were studded with three distinct types of synaptic endings distinguished mainly by the size of their synaptic vesicles. There were endings with large vesicles, 510 Å in mean diameter; endings with small vesicles, 380 Å; and endings with vesicles intermediate in size. 435 Å. The large vesicle ending typically was greater than 2 μm in maximum diameter. It appeared as the termination of a myelinated axon or as a swollen portion of a node and made multiple asymmetrical synapses. Large vesicle endings occurred exclusively on dendrites where they formed 85% of the synaptic endings. Small vesicle endings typically were less than 2 μm in diameter. They appeared as the termination of a fine unmyelinated axon and made only one symmetrical synapse. Small vesicle boutons occurred infrequently over the entire neuronal surface. Intermediate vesicle synaptic endings were similar to large vesicle endings except that they were present only on the cell body, axon hillock, and proximal portions of the dendrites where they formed most of the synapses. In AVCN lesioned animals degenerating myelinated axons and large vesicle synaptic endings were distributed to the lateral dendrites of the ipsilateral MSO and medial dendrites of the contralateral one. In addition, a few degenerating axons and large vesicle endings were found among the ipsilateral medial dendrites. The changes in the degenerating endings were characterized by an early proliferation of neurofilaments and swelling of the endings followed by collapse of the endings and increase in electron density, disappearance of filaments and synaptic vesicles, and phagocytosis of the degenerated endings by reactive glial cells. No degenerative changes were observed in the small and intermediate vesicle endings. The results of this study indicate that the more numerous large vesicle endings presynaptic to the MSO dendrites are the axon terminals of neurons in the AVCN. The persistence after lesions of the small and intermediate vesicle endings suggests that they arise from as yet unidentified sources.
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