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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Nov 8;91(23):10888-92.

Calcium dependence of neurotransmitter release and rate of spontaneous vesicle fusions are altered in Drosophila synaptotagmin mutants.

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Division of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030.


Since the demonstration that Ca2+ influx into the presynaptic terminal is essential for neurotransmitter release, there has been much speculation about the Ca2+ receptor responsible for initiating exocytosis. Numerous experiments have shown that the protein, or protein complex, binds multiple Ca2+ ions, resides near the site of Ca2+ influx, and has a relatively low affinity for Ca2+. Synaptotagmin is an integral membrane protein of synaptic vesicles that contains two copies of a domain known to be involved in Ca(2+)-dependent membrane interactions. Synaptotagmin has been shown to bind Ca2+ in vitro with a relatively low affinity. In addition, synaptotagmin has been shown to bind indirectly to Ca2+ channels, positioning the protein close to the site of Ca2+ influx. Recently, a negative regulatory role for synaptotagmin has been proposed, in which it functions as a clamp to prevent fusion of synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic membrane. Release of the clamp would allow exocytosis. Here we present genetic and electrophysiological evidence that synaptotagmin forms a multimeric complex that can function as a clamp in vivo. However, upon nerve stimulation and Ca2+ influx, all synaptotagmin mutations dramatically decrease the ability of Ca2+ to promote release, suggesting that synaptotagmin probably plays a key role in activation of synaptic vesicle fusion. This activity cannot simply be attributed to the removal of a barrier to secretion, as we can electrophysiologically separate the increase in rate of spontaneous vesicle fusion from the decrease in evoked response. We also find that some syt mutations, including those that lack the second Ca(2+)-binding domain, decrease the fourth-order dependence of release on Ca2+ by approximately half, consistent with the hypothesis that a synaptotagmin complex functions as a Ca2+ receptor for initiating exocytosis.

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