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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Mar 1;102(9):3477-82. Epub 2005 Feb 22.

Dissection of synaptic excitability phenotypes by using a dominant-negative Shaker K+ channel subunit.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208103, New Haven, CT 06520-8103, USA.


During nervous system development, synapses undergo morphological change as a function of electrical activity. In Drosophila, enhanced activity results in the expansion of larval neuromuscular junctions. We have examined whether these structural changes involve the pre- or postsynaptic partner by selectively enhancing electrical excitability with a Shaker dominant-negative (SDN) potassium channel subunit. We find that the SDN enhances neurotransmitter release when expressed in motoneurons, postsynaptic potential broadening when expressed in muscles and neurons, and selectively suppresses fast-inactivating, Shaker-mediated IA currents in muscles. SDN expression also phenocopies the canonical behavioral phenotypes of the Sh mutation. At the neuromuscular junction, we find that activity-dependent changes in arbor size occur only when SDN is expressed presynaptically. This finding indicates that elevated postsynaptic membrane excitability is by itself insufficient to enhance presynaptic arbor growth. Such changes must minimally involve increased neuronal excitability.

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