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J Neurosci. 1993 Nov;13(11):4831-45.

Two structural adaptations for regulating transmitter release at lobster neuromuscular synapses.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523.


The distal accessory flexor muscle (DAFM) in the lobster (Homarus americanus) walking leg consists of 5 muscle fiber bundles. All five bundles, one proximal, one distal, and 3 medial, are innervated by one excitatory and one inhibitory motor neuron. Both neurons release more transmitter on the distal bundle than on the proximal bundle. The aim of our studies was to investigate the structural basis of this differentiation. Thin sections cut at 50 microns intervals showed a similar number of excitatory synapses on the two bundles. Freeze-fracture views of excitatory synapses showed that synapse size, active zone number per synapse, and intramembrane particle density in the postsynaptic membrane are similar proximally and distally. Active zones at synapses on the distal bundle are larger and contain about 50% more large intramembrane particles, which are thought to include the voltage-gated Ca2+ channels that couple the action potential to transmitter release, than their counterparts on the most proximal bundle. This difference in channel number appears to produce a disproportionate increase in the probability of transmitter release sufficient to account for most of the proximal-distal disparity in the amplitude of the excitatory postsynaptic potential. In contrast, staining the inhibitor for antibodies to the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, showed that it forms more varicosities on the distal bundle than on the proximal bundle. Because most of the synapses are located in the varicosities, differences in synapse number likely regulate the proximal-distal disparity in the amount of inhibitory transmitter released. Therefore, the regional differentiation in the amount of transmitter released in the DAFM appears to be based on two distinct mechanisms. In the inhibitor, transmitter release appears to be regulated differentially by differences in synapse number. In the excitor, transmitter release appears to be regulated differentially from a similar number of synapses by differences in active zone structure.

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