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J Physiol. 2002 Mar 15;539(Pt 3):693-705.

Evidence for two distinct processes in the final stages of neurotransmitter release as detected by binomial analysis in calcium and strontium solutions.

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Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry, Northwestern University Medical School, 303 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


The statistical parameters underlying acetylcholine (ACh) release were studied using Ca(2+) and Sr(2+) ions to promote ACh secretion. Experiments were performed at frog neuromuscular junctions using electrophysiological recording techniques. Increases in asynchronous ACh release, reflected as the frequency of occurrence of miniature end-plate potentials (MEPP(f)), were evoked by high potassium depolarization in either Ca(2+) or Sr(2+) solutions. Increases in MEPP(f) mediated by Ca(2+) were of very low probability and well-described by a Poisson distribution whilst similar MEPP(f) increases mediated by Sr(2+) were best described as a simple binomial distribution. From the binomial distribution in Sr(2+) solutions, values for the average probability of release (p) and the number of releasable ACh quanta (n) may be determined (whereby mean MEPP(f) = np). In Sr(2+) solutions, values of p were independent of both bin width and of the value of n, suggesting that both n and p were stationary. Calculations of p using the simple binomial distribution in Sr(2+) solutions gave theoretical values for the third moment of the mean which were indistinguishable from the experimental distribution. These results, in conjunction with Monte Carlo simulations of the data, suggest that spatial and temporal variance do not measurably affect the analysis. Synchronous ACh release evoked by nerve impulses (end-plate potentials, EPPs) follow a simple binomial distribution in both Ca(2+) and Sr(2+) solutions. Similar mean levels of synchronous ACh release (m, where m = np) were produced by lower values of p and higher values of n in Ca(2+) as compared to Sr(2+). The statistical analyses suggest the presence of two different Ca(2+)-dependent steps in the final stages of neurotransmitter release. The results are discussed in accordance with (i) statistical models for quantal neurotransmitter release, (ii) the role of Sr(2+) as a partial agonist for evoked ACh release, and (iii) the specific loci that may represent the sites of Ca(2+) and Sr(2+) sensitivity.

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