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Neuroscience. 1991;40(2):587-98.

Cytoplasmic architecture of the axon terminal: filamentous strands specifically associated with synaptic vesicles.

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Department of Anatomy, Osaka University Medical School, Japan.


Cytoplasmic architecture of axon terminals in rat central nervous tissue was examined by quick-freeze deep-etch method to determine how synaptic vesicles and their associated cytoplasmic environment are organized in the terminal and to know how these structures participate in the mechanism for neurotransmitter release. The axoplasm is divisible into two domains: one occupied by mitochondria in the middle of the terminal, called the mitochondrial domain, the other situated in the periphery and exclusively filled with spherical synaptic vesicles, 50-60 nm in diameter, the synaptic vesicle domain. The most characteristic feature of the mitochondrial domain was the appearance of many microtubules connected with mitochondria by filamentous strands. Large vesicles, 80-100 nm in diameter, were preferentially associated with the mitochondrial domain, and linked with microtubules wherever they appeared. The cytoplasmic matrix of the synaptic vesicle domain showed a more fibrillar texture than that of the mitochondrial domain because of the distribution of filamentous strands associated with synaptic vesicles. These strands were significantly thicker and longer (mean 11.7 nm thick and 42.7 nm long) than those linking membrane-bound organelles to microtubules (mean 8.3 nm thick and 23.0 nm long), and connected vesicles to one another or to the plasma membrane, making a complicated network around the vesicles. Further, both strands were significantly different in dimension from actin filaments (mean 9.9 nm thick and 73.5 nm long) showing 5-nm axial periodicity. These strands, especially synaptic vesicle-associated ones including their network, were readily broken down in the most part by detergent treatment or chemical fixation, indicating that they are very delicate in nature. Granular materials, which are spherical and vary in size (6-20 nm in diameter), are also more conspicuous in the synaptic vesicle domain than in the mitochondrial domain. More fibrillar and granular cytoplasmic structure of the synaptic vesicle domain may be crucial for synaptic vesicles to perform an essential role in releasing the transmitter.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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