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J Neurosci. 2003 Apr 1;23(7):2538-48.

Imaging calcium entry sites and ribbon structures in two presynaptic cells.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


We investigated the location of calcium entry sites and synaptic ribbons in the type-Mb goldfish bipolar neuron and the bullfrog saccular hair cell. Cells were loaded with a fast calcium indicator (Fluo-3 or Fluo-5F) and an excess of a high-affinity but slow Ca buffer (EGTA). The cell surface was imaged by evanescent field microscopy. Small fluorescent "hot spots" representing calcium entry sites appeared abruptly when a voltage step opened Ca channels and disappeared or dimmed abruptly when Ca channels closed. In bipolar cells, the fluorescence of hot spots tracked the calcium influx. Hair cells showed similar Ca hot spots. Synaptic ribbons or dense bodies were labeled by immunofluorescence with an antibody that recognizes the ribbon protein ribeye. The antibody labeled punctate structures beneath the plasma membrane. In both bipolar neurons and hair cells, the number of Ca entry sites was similar or identical to that of ribbons or dense bodies, consistent with the idea that calcium-channel clusters reside near ribbons, and that both mark active zones. In bipolar cells, the number of Ca entry sites and ribeye-positive fluorescent spots is also strikingly similar to that of exocytic active zones but significantly less than the number of total exocytic sites including solitary fusion events outside active zones. We suggest that in bipolar terminals, active zones, Ca entry sites, and synaptic ribbons all colocalize, but also that a significant number of vesicles can fuse outside active zones and, hence, independently of synaptic ribbons.

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