The concept of the tripartite synapse describes the close interaction of pre- and postsynaptic elements and the surrounding astrocyte processes. For glutamatergic synapses, it is established that the presence of astrocytic processes and their structural arrangements varies considerably between and within brain regions and between synapses of the same neuron. In contrast, less is known about the organization of astrocytic processes at GABAergic synapses although bi-directional signaling is known to exist at these synapses too. Therefore, we established super-resolution expansion microscopy of GABAergic synapses and nearby astrocytic processes in the stratum radiatum of the mouse hippocampal CA1 region. By visualizing the presynaptic vesicular GABA transporter and the postsynaptic clustering protein gephyrin, we documented the subsynaptic heterogeneity of GABAergic synaptic contacts. We then compared the volume distribution of astrocytic processes near GABAergic synapses between individual synapses and with glutamatergic synapses. We made two novel observations. First, astrocytic processes were more abundant at the GABAergic synapses with large postsynaptic gephyrin clusters. Second, astrocytic processes were less abundant in the vicinity of GABAergic synapses compared to glutamatergic, suggesting that the latter may be selectively approached by astrocytes. Because of the GABA transporter distribution, we also speculate that this specific arrangement enables more efficient re-uptake of GABA into presynaptic terminals.
- inhibitory synapses
- perisynaptic astrocytic processes