We have previously described the distribution pattern of inhibitory synapses on rat jaw-closing (JC) α- and γ-motoneurons. In the present study, we investigated developmental changes in inhibitory synapses on JC motoneurons. We performed a quantitative ultrastructural analysis of putative inhibitory synaptic boutons on JC motoneuron somata by using postembedding immunogold labeling for GABA and glycine. In total, 206, 350, and 497 boutons contacting JC motoneuron somata were analyzed at postnatal days 2 (P2), 11 (P11) and 31 (P31), respectively. The size of the somata increased significantly during postnatal development. The size distribution was bimodal at P31. Mean length of the boutons and percentage of synaptic covering also increased during postnatal development, whereas bouton density did not differ significantly among the three age groups. Synaptic boutons on the somata of JC α-motoneurons could be classified into four types: boutons immunoreactive for 1) GABA only, 2) glycine only, 3) both GABA and glycine, and 4) neither GABA nor glycine. There was no developmental change in the proportion of putative inhibitory boutons to the total number of studied boutons. However, the glycine-only boutons increased significantly (15.1% to 27.3%), and the GABA-only boutons decreased significantly (17.7% to 2.6%) during the period from P11 to P31. Our ultrastructural data indicate that the inhibitory synaptic input to JC motoneurons is developmentally regulated and that there is a postnatal switch from GABA to glycine. The postnatal changes revealed in the present study could play an important role in the maturation of the oral motor system.
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