The degenerative changes of the synaptic regions after nerve section have been studied with the electron microscope in the interneuronal synapse of the ventral ganglion of the acoustic nerve of the guinea pig. Fixation with buffered osmic tetroxide was carried out 22, 44, and 48 hours after destruction of the cochlea on one side; the contralateral ganglion being used as control.
The submicroscopic organization of normal axosomatic and axodendritic synapses is described. In the synaptic ending four morphological components are recognized: the membrane, the mitochondria, the synaptic vesicles (19, 20), and the cytoplasmic matrix. The intimate contact of glial processes with the endings and with the surface of the nerve cell is described. At the level of the synaptic junction there is a direct contact of the limiting membranes of the ending and of the cell body or dendrite. Both contacting membranes constitute the synaptic one with a total thickness of about 250 A. This membrane has regions of higher electron density where the synaptic vesicles come into intimate contact and fuse with it.
Definite degenerative submicroscopic changes in the nerve endings were observed after 22 hours of destruction of the cochlea and were much more conspicuous after 44 and 48 hours. After 22 hours there is swelling of the ending and decreased electron density of the matrix. Most synaptic vesicles have disappeared or seem to undergo a process of clumping and dissolution. Some mitochondria also show signs of degeneration. After 44 hours the synaptic vesicles have practically disappeared; mitochondria are in different stages of lysis; the membrane of the ending becomes irregular in shape, and there is shrinkage and in some cases detachment of the ending. No changes in the postsynaptic cytoplasm were observed.
These observations and particularly the rapid lysis of the synaptic vesicles are discussed in correlation with data from the literature indicating the early alteration of synaptic function and the biochemical changes occurring after section of the afferent nerve. The hypothesis that the synaptic vesicles may be carriers of acetylcholine or other active substances (19, 20) and that they may act as biochemical units in synaptic transmission is also discussed.2