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J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 16;36(11):3295-308. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4049-15.2016.

More Docked Vesicles and Larger Active Zones at Basket Cell-to-Granule Cell Synapses in a Rat Model of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.

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Departments of Comparative Medicine and Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
Departments of Comparative Medicine and.


Temporal lobe epilepsy is a common and challenging clinical problem, and its pathophysiological mechanisms remain unclear. One possibility is insufficient inhibition in the hippocampal formation where seizures tend to initiate. Normally, hippocampal basket cells provide strong and reliable synaptic inhibition at principal cell somata. In a rat model of temporal lobe epilepsy, basket cell-to-granule cell (BC→GC) synaptic transmission is more likely to fail, but the underlying cause is unknown. At some synapses, probability of release correlates with bouton size, active zone area, and number of docked vesicles. The present study tested the hypothesis that impaired GABAergic transmission at BC→GC synapses is attributable to ultrastructural changes. Boutons making axosomatic symmetric synapses in the granule cell layer were reconstructed from serial electron micrographs. BC→GC boutons were predicted to be smaller in volume, have fewer and smaller active zones, and contain fewer vesicles, including fewer docked vesicles. Results revealed the opposite. Compared with controls, epileptic pilocarpine-treated rats displayed boutons with over twice the average volume, active zone area, total vesicles, and docked vesicles and with more vesicles closer to active zones. Larger active zones in epileptic rats are consistent with previous reports of larger amplitude miniature IPSCs and larger BC→GC quantal size. Results of this study indicate that transmission failures at BC→GC synapses in epileptic pilocarpine-treated rats are not attributable to smaller boutons or fewer docked vesicles. Instead, processes following vesicle docking, including priming, Ca(2+) entry, or Ca(2+) coupling with exocytosis, might be responsible.


One in 26 people develops epilepsy, and temporal lobe epilepsy is a common form. Up to one-third of patients are resistant to currently available treatments. This study tested a potential underlying mechanism for previously reported impaired inhibition in epileptic animals at basket cell-to-granule cell (BC→GC) synapses, which normally are reliable and strong. Electron microscopy was used to evaluate 3D ultrastructure of BC→GC synapses in a rat model of temporal lobe epilepsy. The hypothesis was that impaired synaptic transmission is attributable to smaller boutons, smaller synapses, and abnormally low numbers of synaptic vesicles. Results revealed the opposite. These findings suggest that impaired transmission at BC→GC synapses in epileptic rats is attributable to later steps in exocytosis following vesicle docking.


GABA; bouton; dentate gyrus; electron microscopy; inhibition; ultrastructure

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