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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The nestin-expressing and non-expressing neurons in rat basal forebrain display different electrophysiological properties and project to hippocampus

Jianhua Zhu1, Huaiyu Gu1, Zhibin Yao1*, Juntao Zou1, Kaihua Guo1, Dongpei Li1 and Tianming Gao2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Zhongshan School of Medicine, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China

2 Department of Neurobiology, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, China

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:129  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-129

Published: 20 December 2011



Nestin-immunoreactive (nestin-ir) neurons have been identified in the medial septal/diagonal band complex (MS/DBB) of adult rat and human, but the significance of nestin expression in functional neurons is not clear. This study investigated electrophysiological properties and neurochemical phenotypes of nestin-expressing (nestin+) neurons using whole-cell recording combined with single-cell RT-PCR to explore the significance of nestin expression in functional MS/DBB neurons. The retrograde labelling and immunofluorescence were used to investigate the nestin+ neuron related circuit in the septo-hippocampal pathway.


The results of single-cell RT-PCR showed that 87.5% (35/40) of nestin+ cells expressed choline acetyltransferase mRNA (ChAT+), only 44.3% (35/79) of ChAT+ cells expressed nestin mRNA. Furthermore, none of the nestin+ cells expressed glutamic acid decarboxylases 67 (GAD67) or vesicular glutamate transporters (VGLUT) mRNA. All of the recorded nestin+ cells were excitable and demonstrated slow-firing properties, which were distinctive from those of GAD67 or VGLUT mRNA-positive neurons. These results show that the MS/DBB cholinergic neurons could be divided into nestin-expressing cholinergic neurons (NEChs) and nestin non-expressing cholinergic neurons (NNChs). Interestingly, NEChs had higher excitability and received stronger spontaneous excitatory synaptic inputs than NNChs. Retrograde labelling combined with choline acetyltransferase and nestin immunofluorescence showed that both of the NEChs and NNChs projected to hippocampus.


These results suggest that there are two parallel cholinergic septo-hippocampal pathways that may have different functions. The significance of nestin expressing in functional neurons has been discussed.