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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Jan 29;365(1):141-58.

Activity-related features of synapse morphology: a study of endbulbs of held.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


The myelinated fibers of the auditory nerve can be divided into two separate populations on the basis of sensitivity to sound, average levels of spike activity, and central branching patterns. The synaptic endings of these populations were investigated for the presence of structural specializations that might correlate with levels of neural activity. We applied intracellular recording and staining methods in cats to analyze directly the relationship between spike activity and the structure of synapses using endbulbs of Held, the large synaptic endings in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. Endbulbs from fibers having low or high levels of activity were examined and compared using light and electron microscopic methods. All endbulbs exhibited relatively large but incomplete coverage by one-to-several lamellae of glial processes. Endbulbs of high activity fibers were large and contained larger mitochondria than endbulbs of low activity fibers. Furthermore, the synapses of high activity endbulbs were on average smaller but more numerous, possessed greater numbers of associated synaptic vesicles, and exhibited greater curvature of their postsynaptic densities. These structural features are hypothesized to reflect specializations that optimize synaptic transmission.

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