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J Neurochem. 1999 Dec;73(6):2227-39.

Mechanisms of synaptic vesicle recycling illuminated by fluorescent dyes.

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Cell Signalling Unit, Children's Medical Research Institute, Wentworthville, New South Wales, Australia.


The recycling of synaptic vesicles in nerve terminals involves multiple steps, underlies all aspects of synaptic transmission, and is a key to understanding the basis of synaptic plasticity. The development of styryl dyes as fluorescent molecules that label recycling synaptic vesicles has revolutionized the way in which synaptic vesicle recycling can be investigated, by allowing an examination of processes in neurons that have long been inaccessible. In this review, we evaluate the major aspects of synaptic vesicle recycling that have been revealed and advanced by studies with styryl dyes, focussing upon synaptic vesicle fusion, retrieval, and trafficking. The greatest impact of styryl dyes has been to allow the routine visualization of endocytosis in central nerve terminals for the first time. This has revealed the kinetics of endocytosis, its underlying sequential steps, and its regulation by Ca2+. In studies of exocytosis, styryl dyes have helped distinguish between different modes of vesicle fusion, provided direct support for the quantal nature of exocytosis and endocytosis, and revealed how the probability of exocytosis varies enormously from one nerve terminal to another. Synaptic vesicle labelling with styryl dyes has helped our understanding of vesicle trafficking by allowing better understanding of different synaptic vesicle pools within the nerve terminal, vesicle intermixing, and vesicle clustering at release sites. Finally, the dyes are now being used in innovative ways to reveal further insights into synaptic plasticity.

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