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J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jul;78(1):281-94.

Synaptic physiology and mitochondrial function in crayfish tonic and phasic motor neurons.

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Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Phasic and tonic motor neurons of crustaceans differ strikingly in their junctional synaptic physiology. Tonic neurons generally produce small excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) that facilitate strongly as stimulation frequency is increased, and normally show no synaptic depression. In contrast, phasic neurons produce relatively large EPSPs with weak frequency facilitation and pronounced depression. We addressed the hypothesis that mitochondrial function is an important determinant of the features of synaptic transmission in these neurons. Mitochondrial fluorescence was measured with confocal microscopy in phasic and tonic axons and terminals of abdominal and leg muscles after exposure to supravital mitochondrial fluorochromes, rhodamine-123 (Rh123) and 4-diethylaminostyryl-N-methylpyridinium iodide (4-Di-2-Asp). Mitochondria of tonic axons and neuromuscular junctions had significantly higher mean Rh123 and 4-Di-2-Asp fluorescence than in phasic neurons, indicating more accumulation of the fluorochromes. Mitochondrial membrane potential, which is responsible for Rh123 uptake and is related to mitochondrial oxidative activity (the production of ATP by oxidation of metabolic substrates), is likely higher in tonic axons. Electron microscopy showed that tonic axons contain approximately fivefold more mitochondria per microm2 cross-sectional area than phasic axons. Neuromuscular junctions of tonic axons also have a much higher mitochondrial content than those of phasic axons. We tested the hypothesis that synaptic fatigue resistance is dependent on mitochondrial function in crayfish motor axons. Impairment of mitochondrial function by uncouplers of oxidative phosphorylation, dinitrophenol or carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone, or by the electron transport inhibitor sodium azide, led to marked synaptic depression of a tonic axon and accelerated depression of a phasic axon during maintained stimulation. Iodoacetate, an inhibitor of glycolysis, and chloramphenicol, a mitochondrial protein synthesis inhibitor, had no significant effects on either mitochondrial fluorescence or synaptic depression in tonic or phasic axons. Collectively, the results provide evidence that mitochondrial oxidative metabolism is important for sustaining synaptic transmission during maintained stimulation of tonic and phasic motor neurons. Tonic neurons have a higher mitochondrial content and greater oxidative activity; these features are correlated with their greater resistance to synaptic depression. Conversely, phasic neurons have a lower mitochondrial content, less oxidative activity, and greater synaptic fatigability.

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