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J Neurosci. 2009 Nov 18;29(46):14670-80. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1349-09.2009.

Functional heterogeneity at dopamine release sites.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, New South Wales 2010, Australia.


Although drugs used to treat several neurological diseases are presumed to target synapses that secrete dopamine (DA), relatively little is known about synaptic vesicle (SV) release mechanisms at single DA synapses. We found that the relative probability of release (Pr) varied between individual DA synapses. Furthermore, DA terminals generally exhibited lower Pr than glutamatergic hippocampal (Hpc) terminals, suggesting that DA release is less reliable than the release of glutamate. Our mathematical model of fluorescence loss shows that Pr is regulated by two independent and heterogeneous elements. First, the size of the recycling SV pool regulates Pr. Second, Pr is also independently regulated by additional factors, which are reflected in the time constant of FM 1-43 destaining, tau. We found that the observed difference in Pr between Hpc and DA neurons results because the recycling SV pool is smaller in DA neurons than in Hpc neurons. However, tau does not vary between these two neuron populations. We also identified a population of functional nonsynaptic boutons in DA axons, which are not associated with a postsynaptic element and which are not functionally different from boutons that formed conventional synapses. Our work provides a new approach to the study of SV exocytosis in DA neurons and shows that synaptic terminals of DA neurons are functionally heterogeneous and differ from excitatory terminals in terms of Pr.

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