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Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2019 Aug 23;11:23. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2019.00023. eCollection 2019.

Interrogating Synaptic Architecture: Approaches for Labeling Organelles and Cytoskeleton Components.

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Institute for Neuro- and Sensory Physiology, Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), University Medical Center Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
International Max Planck Research School for Molecular Biology, Göttingen, Germany.


Synaptic transmission has been studied for decades, as a fundamental step in brain function. The structure of the synapse, and its changes during activity, turned out to be key aspects not only in the transfer of information between neurons, but also in cognitive processes such as learning and memory. The overall synaptic morphology has traditionally been studied by electron microscopy, which enables the visualization of synaptic structure in great detail. The changes in the organization of easily identified structures, such as the presynaptic active zone, or the postsynaptic density, are optimally studied via electron microscopy. However, few reliable methods are available for labeling individual organelles or protein complexes in electron microscopy. For such targets one typically relies either on combination of electron and fluorescence microscopy, or on super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. This review focuses on approaches and techniques used to specifically reveal synaptic organelles and protein complexes, such as cytoskeletal assemblies. We place the strongest emphasis on methods detecting the targets of interest by affinity binding, and we discuss the advantages and limitations of each method.


actin; cytoskeleton; nanoscopy; super-resolution; synapse; vesicles

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