The goal of this study was to determine the distribution and diversity of astrocytes and oligodendrocytes within the lateral superior olive of the gerbil. We used morphometric analyses and several immunocytochemical markers to assess differences in glial cell composition between the lateral (low-frequency projection) and the medial (high-frequency projection) limb of the lateral superior olive. Cell counts from Toluidine-stained semithin sections revealed a similar density of total astrocytes in both the lateral and the medial limbs. However, based on cytologic features, there was a prevalence of fibrous-like astrocytes in the lateral limb and protoplasmic-like astrocytes in the medial limb. In a similar manner, glial fibrillary acidic protein staining of astrocytes was intense in the lateral limb, but was largely restricted to the nucleus borders in the medial limb of the lateral superior olive. While glial fibrillary acidic protein was largely restricted to astrocytic processes, glutamine synthetase and S100 protein staining occurred, for the most part, in glial cell bodies. The density of glutamine synthetase positive cell bodies was homogeneous between the two limbs, while the density of S100-positive somata was significantly greater in the lateral limb. Cell counts obtained from semithin sections demonstrated a greater density of oligodendrocytes in the lateral limb than in the medial limb of the lateral superior olive. In a similar manner, there was a 40% greater density of carbonic anhydrase-positive somata in the lateral limb compared to the medial limb. Transferrin immunostaining was restricted to oligodendrocytes, but the density of labeled somata was identical in the lateral and medial limbs. 2',3'-Cyclic nucleotide 3'-phosphodiesterase and myelin-associated glycoprotein were also localized to the somata of oligodendrocytes, labeling both perisomatic and interfascicular cells. At the ultrastructural level, specialized contacts were found between pairs or clusters of oligodendrocytes. These results suggest that more than one type of astrocyte and oligodendrocyte is present within the gerbil lateral superior olive. Furthermore, glial cells were unevenly distributed, such that a greater density of oligodendrocytes and fibrous-like astrocytes were found in the low-frequency projection region. This heterogeneity is well correlated with known differences in the neuronal morphology within the lateral superior olive.
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