The striatum receives major excitatory inputs from the cortex and thalamus that predominantly target the spines of medium-sized spiny neurons (MSNs). We aimed to determine whether there is any selectivity of these two excitatory afferents in their innervation of direct and indirect pathway MSNs. To address this, we used bacterial artificial chromosome transgenic mice, in which enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) reports the presence of D(1) or D(2) dopamine receptor subtypes, markers of direct and indirect pathway MSNs, respectively. Excitatory afferents were identified by the selective expression of vesicular glutamate transporter type 1 (VGluT1) by corticostriatal afferents and vesicular glutamate transporter type 2 (VGluT2) by thalamostriatal afferents. A quantitative electron microscopic analysis was performed on striatal tissue from D(1) and D(2) mice that was double immunolabeled to reveal the EGFP and VGluT1 or VGluT2. We found that the proportion of synapses formed by terminals derived from the cortex and thalamus was similar for both direct and indirect pathway MSNs. Furthermore, qualitative analysis revealed that individual cortical or thalamic terminals form synapses with both direct and indirect pathway MSNs. Similarly, we observed a convergence of cortical and thalamic inputs onto individual MSNs of both direct and indirect pathway: individual EGFP-positive structures received input from both VGluT2-positive and VGluT2-negative terminals. These findings demonstrate that direct and indirect pathway MSNs are similarly innervated by cortical and thalamic afferents; both projections are thus likely to be critical in the control of MSNs and hence play fundamental roles in the expression of basal ganglia function.
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