Cytoarchitecture of the substantia nigra pars lateralis in the opossum (Didelphis virginiana): A correlated light and electron microscopic study

Terence P. Ma, James C. Hazlett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The substantia nigra has been divided into three subdivisions. However, the cytoarchitecture of one of these subdivisions, the pars lateralis (SNI), has not been previously examined in detail at the light and electron microscopic levels in any species. In the adult opossum, the three nigral subdivisions can be easily distinguished as distinct, rostrocaudally oriented cell groups separated by neuron‐free zones. Thus it was possible to determine the boundaries of the SNI unambiguously. This report covers the results of an examination of the morphology and organization of the SNI in the opossum. Methods: Material from 13 opossums was used for this study. Eight of the animals had been previously stained for Nissl substance (n=4) or impregnated by the Golgi technique (n=4). The remaining five animals were prepared for electron microscopic studies using standard procedures. Results: Two cell types were identified on the basis of morphological differences, small and medium‐large neurons. Small neurons (10–18 μm long axis) have large nuclei with moderate amounts of heterochromatin and a thin rim of cytoplasm. They have long (up to 500 μm), spine‐free dendrites. Medium‐large neurons (18–54 μm long axis) have rounded nuclei with electron‐lucent nucleoplasm. Few indentations of the nuclear envelope were observed. The surrounding cytoplasm has dense arrays of organelles. Nissl bodies are particularly prominent in the form of pyramids with their bases at juxtanuclear positions and their apices directed toward emerging dendrites. Dendrites of medium‐large neurons are long (some>1 mm in length), are primarily oriented in the frontal plane, and extend along the dorsal surface of or into the cerebral peduncle. Some cells have dendrites that are moderately spinous, whereas other neurons possess sparsely spinous dendrites. Relatively few synaptic profiles are observed to contact somata and proximal dendrites. Conclusion: This report provides added morphological support for the idea that the SNI is a distinct subdivision of the substantia nigra, a distinction previously made on the basis of the physiologically characterized relationship between the lateral substantia nigra and orienting behaviors and seizure‐related function. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-578
Number of pages16
JournalThe Anatomical record
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1995


  • Basal ganglia
  • Cytoarchitecture
  • Electron microscopy
  • Light microscopy
  • Opossum
  • Substantia nigra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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