Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2020 Feb 19;40(8):1611-1624. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1774-19.2020. Epub 2020 Jan 21.

Neuronal Glutamatergic Synaptic Clefts Alkalinize Rather Than Acidify during Neurotransmission.

Author information

Wilkes Honors College, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458.
Jupiter Life Science Initiative, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458.
Integrative Biology & Neuroscience Graduate Program, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458.
Department of Physics, College of Science, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida 33431.
Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada.
Physiology and Cell Biology, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Reno, Nevada 89557.
Wilkes Honors College, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458,
Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458, and.
Brain Institute, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, Florida 33458.


The dogma that the synaptic cleft acidifies during neurotransmission is based on the corelease of neurotransmitters and protons from synaptic vesicles, and is supported by direct data from sensory ribbon-type synapses. However, it is unclear whether acidification occurs at non-ribbon-type synapses. Here we used genetically encoded fluorescent pH indicators to examine cleft pH at conventional neuronal synapses. At the neuromuscular junction of female Drosophila larvae, we observed alkaline spikes of over 1 log unit during fictive locomotion in vivo. Ex vivo, single action potentials evoked alkalinizing pH transients of only ∼0.01 log unit, but these transients summated rapidly during burst firing. A chemical pH indicator targeted to the cleft corroborated these findings. Cleft pH transients were dependent on Ca2+ movement across the postsynaptic membrane, rather than neurotransmitter release per se, a result consistent with cleft alkalinization being driven by the Ca2+/H+ antiporting activity of the plasma membrane Ca2+-ATPase at the postsynaptic membrane. Targeting the pH indicators to the microenvironment of the presynaptic voltage gated Ca2+ channels revealed that alkalinization also occurred within the cleft proper at the active zone and not just within extrasynaptic regions. Application of the pH indicators at the mouse calyx of Held, a mammalian central synapse, similarly revealed cleft alkalinization during burst firing in both males and females. These findings, made at two quite different non-ribbon type synapses, suggest that cleft alkalinization during neurotransmission, rather than acidification, is a generalizable phenomenon across conventional neuronal synapses.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Neurotransmission is highly sensitive to the pH of the extracellular milieu. This is readily evident in the neurological symptoms that accompany systemic acid/base imbalances. Imaging data from sensory ribbon-type synapses show that neurotransmission itself can acidify the synaptic cleft, likely due to the corelease of protons and glutamate. It is not clear whether the same phenomenon occurs at conventional neuronal synapses due to the difficulties in collecting such data. If it does occur, it would provide for an additional layer of activity-dependent modulation of neurotransmission. Our findings of alkalinization, rather than acidification, within the cleft of two different neuronal synapses encourages a reassessment of the scope of activity-dependent pH influences on neurotransmission and short-term synaptic plasticity.


glutamatergic; pH imaging; synaptic cleft; synaptic plasticity

[Available on 2020-08-19]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center