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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 30;106(26):10823-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903570106. Epub 2009 Jun 15.

Graded synaptic transmission at the Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junction.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0840, USA.


Most neurotransmission is mediated by action potentials, whereas sensory neurons propagate electrical signals passively and release neurotransmitter in a graded manner. Here, we demonstrate that Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junctions release neurotransmitter in a graded fashion. When motor neurons were depolarized by light-activation of channelrhodopsin-2, the evoked postsynaptic current scaled with the strength of the stimulation. When motor neurons were hyperpolarized by light-activation of halorhodopsin, tonic release of synaptic vesicles was decreased. These data suggest that both evoked and tonic neurotransmitter release is graded in response to membrane potential. Acetylcholine synapses are depressed by high-frequency stimulation, in part due to desensitization of the nicotine-sensitve ACR-16 receptor. By contrast, GABA synapses facilitate before becoming depressed. Graded transmission and plasticity confer a broad dynamic range to these synapses. Graded release precisely transmits stimulation intensity, even hyperpolarizing inputs. Synaptic plasticity alters the balance of excitatory and inhibitory inputs into the muscle in a use-dependent manner.

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