Synaptic ribbons are presynaptic protein structures found at many synapses that convey graded, "analog" sensory signals in the visual, auditory, and vestibular pathways. Ribbons, typically anchored to the presynaptic membrane and surrounded by tethered synaptic vesicles, are thought to regulate or facilitate vesicle delivery to the presynaptic membrane. No direct evidence exists, however, to indicate how vesicles interact with the ribbon or, once attached, move along the ribbon's surface to reach the presynaptic release sites at its base. To address these questions, we have created, validated, and tested a passive vesicle diffusion model of retinal rod bipolar cell ribbon synapses. We used axial (bright-field) electron tomography in the scanning transmission electron microscopy to obtain 3D structures of rat rod bipolar cell terminals in 1-?m-thick sections of retinal tissue at an isotropic spatial resolution of ?3 nm. The resulting structures were then incorporated with previously published estimates of vesicle diffusion dynamics into numerical simulations that accurately reproduced electrophysiologically measured vesicle release/replenishment rates and vesicle pool sizes. The simulations suggest that, under physiologically realistic conditions, diffusion of vesicles crowded on the ribbon surface gives rise to a flow field that enhances delivery of vesicles to the presynaptic membrane without requiring an active transport mechanism. Numerical simulations of ribbon-vesicle interactions predict that transient binding and unbinding of multiple tethers to each synaptic vesicle may achieve sufficiently tight association of vesicles to the ribbon while permitting the fast diffusion along the ribbon that is required to sustain high release rates.
Sensory processing in the auditory system requires that synapses, neurons, and circuits encode information with particularly high temporal and spectral precision. In the amphibian papillia, sound frequencies up to 1 kHz are encoded along a tonotopic array of hair cells and transmitted to afferent fibers via fast, repetitive synaptic transmission, thereby promoting phase locking between the presynaptic and postsynaptic cells. Here, we have combined serial section electron microscopy, paired electrophysiological recordings, and Monte Carlo diffusion simulations to examine novel mechanisms that facilitate fast synaptic transmission in the inner ear of frogs (Rana catesbeiana and Rana pipiens). Three-dimensional anatomical reconstructions reveal specialized spine-like contacts between individual afferent fibers and hair cells that are surrounded by large, open regions of extracellular space. Morphologically realistic diffusion simulations suggest that these local enlargements in extracellular space speed transmitter clearance and reduce spillover between neighboring synapses, thereby minimizing postsynaptic receptor desensitization and improving sensitivity during prolonged signal transmission. Additionally, evoked EPSCs in afferent fibers are unaffected by glutamate transporter blockade, suggesting that transmitter diffusion and dilution, and not uptake, play a primary role in speeding neurotransmission and ensuring fidelity at these synapses.
Neuroligins are postsynaptic cell adhesion molecules that are important for synaptic function through their trans-synaptic interaction with neurexins (NRXNs). The localization and synaptic effects of neuroligin-1 (NL-1, also called NLGN1) are specific to excitatory synapses with the capacity to enhance excitatory synapses dependent on synaptic activity or Ca(2+)/calmodulin kinase II (CaMKII). Here we report that CaMKII robustly phosphorylates the intracellular domain of NL-1. We show that T739 is the dominant CaMKII site on NL-1 and is phosphorylated in response to synaptic activity in cultured rodent neurons and sensory experience in vivo. Furthermore, a phosphodeficient mutant (NL-1 T739A) reduces the basal and activity-driven surface expression of NL-1, leading to a reduction in neuroligin-mediated excitatory synaptic potentiation. To the best of our knowledge, our results are the first to demonstrate a direct functional interaction between CaMKII and NL-1, two primary components of excitatory synapses.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+ and 1 H+ and the counter-transport of 1 K+. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
GLT-1, the major glutamate transporter in the adult brain, is abundantly expressed in astrocytic processes enveloping synapses. By limiting glutamate escape into the surrounding neuropil, GLT-1 preserves the spatial specificity of synaptic signaling. Here we show that the amyloid-? peptide A?1-42 markedly prolongs the extracellular lifetime of synaptically released glutamate by reducing GLT-1 surface expression in mouse astrocytes and that this effect is prevented by the vitamin E derivative Trolox. These findings indicate that astrocytic glutamate transporter dysfunction may play an important role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimers disease and suggest possible mechanisms by which several current treatment strategies could protect against the disease.
Amacrine cells constitute a diverse class of interneurons that contribute to visual signal processing in the inner retina, but surprisingly, little is known about the physiology of most amacrine cell subtypes. Here, we have taken advantage of the sparse expression of vesicular glutamate transporter 3 (VGLUT3) in the mammalian retina to target the expression of yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) to a unique population of amacrine cells using a new transgenic mouse line. Electrophysiological recordings made from YFP-positive (VGLUT3+) amacrine cells provide the first functional data regarding the active membrane properties and synaptic connections of this recently identified cell type. We found that VGLUT3+ amacrine cells receive direct synaptic input from bipolar cells via both N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) and non-NMDARs. Voltage-gated sodium channels amplified these excitatory inputs but repetitive spiking was never observed. VGLUT3+ amacrine cells responded transiently to both light increments (ON response) and decrements (OFF response); ON responses consisted exclusively of inhibitory inputs, while OFF responses comprised both excitatory and inhibitory components, although the inhibitory conductance was larger in amplitude and longer in time course. The physiological properties and anatomical features of the VGLUT3+ amacrine cells suggest that this bistratified interneuron may play a role in disinhibitory signaling and/or crossover inhibition between parallel pathways in the retina.
The retina transforms light entering the eye into a sophisticated neural representation of our visual world. Specialized synapses, cells, and circuits in the retina have evolved to encode luminance, contrast, motion, and other complex visual features. Although a great deal has been learned about the cellular morphology and circuitry that underlies this image processing, many of the synapses in the retina remain incompletely understood. For example, excitatory synapses in the retina feature the full panoply of glutamate receptors, but in most cases specific roles for different receptor subtypes are unclear. In this brief review, I will discuss recent progress toward understanding how Ca(2+)-permeable AMPA receptors (CP-GluARs) contribute to synaptic transmission and newly discovered forms of synaptic plasticity in the retina.
Contrast is computed throughout the nervous system to encode changing inputs efficiently. The retina encodes luminance and contrast over a wide range of visual conditions and must adapt its responses to maintain sensitivity and to avoid saturation. We examined the means by which one type of adaptation allows individual synapses to compute contrast and encode luminance in biphasic responses to step changes in light levels. Light-evoked depletion of the readily releasable vesicle pool (RRP) at rod bipolar cell ribbon synapses in rat retina limited the dynamic range available to encode transient, but not sustained, responses, thereby allowing the transient and sustained components of release to compute temporal contrast and encode mean light levels, respectively. A release/replenishment model revealed that a single, homogeneous pool of synaptic vesicles is sufficient to generate this behavior and that a partial depletion of the RRP is the dominant mechanism for shaping the biphasic contrast/luminance response.
Glutamate uptake by transporters expressed in astrocytes combines with synaptic structure to regulate the time that synaptically released glutamate remains in the extracellular space and, consequently, the duration and location of postsynaptic receptor activation. Both factors change greatly in the rodent hippocampus during the second postnatal week when most synapses become established and begin to mature, processes that are influenced by synaptically released glutamate. Transporter expression increases, potentially speeding removal of synaptically released glutamate, whereas extracellular space decreases, thereby slowing dilution. We investigated whether these competing changes influence the glutamate concentration time course and postsynaptic responses in the CA1 region of the mouse hippocampus during this critical period of synaptic development. Our results suggest that the glutamate concentration time course remains relatively consistent over this period, although the primary mechanisms regulating glutamate clearance change. Before the second postnatal week, clearance of synaptically released glutamate depends primarily on diffusion into large extracellular spaces, whereas later in development it relies more on increased uptake capacity. Thus, increased transporter expression during this period accompanies structural changes in the neuropil, preserving a relatively consistent glutamate concentration time course and ensuring that postsynaptic receptor activation remains brief and primarily localized to receptors close to release sites.
The voltage clamp technique is frequently used to examine the strength and composition of synaptic input to neurons. Even accounting for imperfect voltage control of the entire cell membrane ("space clamp"), it is often assumed that currents measured at the soma are a proportional indicator of the postsynaptic conductance. Here, using NEURON simulation software to model somatic recordings from morphologically realistic neurons, we show that excitatory conductances recorded in voltage clamp mode are distorted significantly by neighboring inhibitory conductances, even when the postsynaptic membrane potential starts at the reversal potential of the inhibitory conductance. Analogous effects are observed when inhibitory postsynaptic currents are recorded at the reversal potential of the excitatory conductance. Escape potentials in poorly clamped dendrites reduce the amplitude of excitatory or inhibitory postsynaptic currents recorded at the reversal potential of the other conductance. In addition, unclamped postsynaptic inhibitory conductances linearize the recorded current-voltage relationship of excitatory inputs comprising AMPAR and NMDAR-mediated components, leading to significant underestimation of the relative contribution by NMDARs, which are particularly sensitive to small perturbations in membrane potential. Voltage clamp accuracy varies substantially between neurons and dendritic arbors of different morphology; as expected, more reliable recordings are obtained from dendrites near the soma, but up to 80% of the synaptic signal on thin, distant dendrites may be lost when postsynaptic interactions are present. These limitations of the voltage clamp technique may explain how postsynaptic effects on synaptic transmission could, in some cases, be attributed incorrectly to presynaptic mechanisms.
In the central nervous system, space is at a premium. This is especially true in the retina, where synapses, cells, and circuitry have evolved to maximize signal-processing capacity within a thin, optically transparent tissue. For example, at some retinal synapses, single presynaptic active zones contact multiple postsynaptic targets; some individual neurons perform completely different tasks depending on visual conditions, while others execute hundreds of circuit computations in parallel; and the retinal network adapts, at various levels, to the ever-changing visual world. Each of these features reflects efficient use of limited cellular resources to optimally encode visual information.
Inward rectifying potassium (Kir) channels participate in regulating potassium concentration (K(+)) in the central nervous system (CNS), including in the retina. We explored the contribution of Kir channels to retinal function by delivering Kir antibodies (Kir-Abs) into the rat eye in vivo to interrupt channel activity. Kir-Abs were coupled to a peptide carrier to reach intracellular epitopes. Functional effects were evaluated by recording the scotopic threshold response (STR) and photopic negative response (PhNR) of the electroretinogram (ERG) noninvasively with an electrode on the cornea to determine activity of the rod and cone pathways, respectively. Intravitreal delivery of Kir2.1-Ab coupled to the peptide carrier diminished these ERG responses equivalent to dimming the stimulus 10- to 100-fold. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) showed Kir2.1 immunostaining of retinal bipolar cells (BCs) matching the labeling pattern obtained with conventional IHC of applying Kir2.1-Ab to fixed retinal sections postmortem. Whole-cell voltage-clamp BC recordings in rat acute retinal slices showed suppression of barium-sensitive Kir2.1 currents upon inclusion of Kir2.1-Ab in the patch pipette. The in vivo functional and structural results implicate a contribution of Kir2.1 channel activity in these electronegative ERG potentials. Studies with Kir4.1-Ab administered in vivo also suppressed the ERG components and showed immunostaining of Müller cells. The strategy of administering Kir antibodies in vivo, coupled to a peptide carrier to facilitate intracellular delivery, identifies roles for Kir2.1 and Kir4.1 in ERG components arising in the proximal retina and suggests this approach could be of further value in research.
Most neurons are highly polarized cells with branched dendrites that receive and integrate synaptic inputs and extensive axons that deliver action potential output to distant targets. By contrast, amacrine cells, a diverse class of inhibitory interneurons in the inner retina, collect input and distribute output within the same neuritic network. The extent to which most amacrine cells integrate synaptic information and distribute their output is poorly understood. Here, we show that single A17 amacrine cells provide reciprocal feedback inhibition to presynaptic bipolar cells via hundreds of independent microcircuits operating in parallel. The A17 uses specialized morphological features, biophysical properties, and synaptic mechanisms to isolate feedback microcircuits and maximize its capacity to handle many independent processes. This example of a neuron employing distributed parallel processing rather than spatial integration provides insights into how unconventional neuronal morphology and physiology can maximize network function while minimizing wiring cost.
GABAergic feedback inhibition from amacrine cells shapes visual signaling in the inner retina. Rod bipolar cells (RBCs), ON-sensitive cells that depolarize in response to light increments, receive reciprocal GABAergic feedback from A17 amacrine cells and additional GABAergic inputs from other amacrine cells located laterally in the inner plexiform layer. The circuitry and synaptic mechanisms underlying lateral GABAergic inhibition of RBCs are poorly understood. A-type and rho-subunit-containing (C-type) GABA receptors (GABA(A)Rs and GABA(C)Rs) mediate both forms of inhibition, but their relative activation during synaptic transmission is unclear, and potential interactions between adjacent reciprocal and lateral synapses have not been explored. Here, we recorded from RBCs in acute slices of rat retina and isolated lateral GABAergic inhibition by pharmacologically ablating A17 amacrine cells. We found that amacrine cells providing lateral GABAergic inhibition to RBCs receive excitatory synaptic input mostly from ON bipolar cells via activation of both Ca(2+)-impermeable and Ca(2+)-permeable AMPA receptors (CP-AMPARs) but not NMDA receptors (NMDARs). Voltage-gated Ca(2+) (Ca(v)) channels mediate the majority of Ca(2+) influx that triggers GABA release, although CP-AMPARs contribute a small component. The intracellular Ca(2+) signal contributing to transmitter release is amplified by Ca(2+)-induced Ca(2+) release from intracellular stores via activation of ryanodine receptors. Furthermore, lateral nonreciprocal feedback is mediated primarily by GABA(C)Rs that are activated independently from receptors mediating reciprocal feedback inhibition. These results illustrate numerous physiological differences that distinguish GABA release at reciprocal and lateral synapses, indicating complex, pathway-specific modulation of RBC signaling.
In the mammalian brain, the specificity of excitatory synaptic transmission depends on rapid diffusion of glutamate away from active synapses and the powerful uptake capacity of glutamate transporters in astrocytes. The extent to which neuronal glutamate transporters influence the lifetime of glutamate in the extracellular space remains unclear. Here we show that EAAC1, the predominant neuronal glutamate transporter at excitatory synapses in hippocampal area CA1, buffers glutamate released during synaptic events and prolongs the time course of its clearance by astrocytes. EAAC1 does not significantly alter activation of receptors in the synaptic cleft. Instead, it reduces recruitment of perisynaptic/extrasynaptic NR2B-containing NMDARs, thereby facilitating induction of long-term potentiation by short bursts of high-frequency stimulation. We describe novel roles of EAAC1 in regulating glutamate diffusion and propose that NMDARs at different subsynaptic locations can make distinct contributions to the regulation of synaptic strength.
Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) receive excitatory glutamatergic input from ON and OFF bipolar cells in distinct sublaminae of the inner plexiform layer (IPL). AMPA and NMDA receptors (AMPARs and NMDARs) mediate excitatory inputs in both synaptic layers, but specific roles for NMDARs at RGC synapses remain unclear. NMDARs comprise NR1 and NR2 subunits and are anchored by membrane-associated guanylate kinases (MAGUKs), but it is unknown whether particular NR2 subunits associate preferentially with particular NR1 splice variants and MAGUKs. Here, we used postembedding immunogold electron microscopy techniques to examine the subsynaptic localization of NMDAR subunits and MAGUKs at ON and OFF synapses onto rat RGCs. We found that the NR2A subunit, the NR1C2 splice variant, and MAGUKs PSD-95 and PSD-93 are localized to the postsynaptic density (PSD), preferentially at OFF synapses, whereas the NR2B subunit, the NR1C2 splice variant, and the MAGUK SAP102 are localized perisynaptically, with NR2B exhibiting a preference for ON synapses. Consistent with these anatomical data, spontaneous EPSCs (sEPSCs) recorded from OFF cells exhibited an NMDAR component that was insensitive to the NR2B antagonist Ro 25-6981. In ON cells, sEPSCs expressed an NMDAR component, partially sensitive to Ro 25-6981, only when glutamate transport was inhibited, indicating perisynaptic expression of NR2B NMDARs. These results provide the first evidence for preferential association of particular NR1 splice variants, NR2 subunits, and MAGUKs at central synapses and suggest that different NMDAR subtypes may play specific roles at functionally distinct synapses in the retinal circuitry.
NMDA receptors (NMDARs) are tetrameric protein complexes usually comprising two NR1 and two NR2 subunits. Different combinations of four potential NR2 subunits (NR2A-D) confer diversity in developmental expression, subsynaptic localization, and functional characteristics, including affinity for neurotransmitter. NR2B-containing NMDARs, for example, exhibit relatively high affinity both for glutamate and the coagonist glycine. Although multiple NMDAR subtypes can colocalize at individual synapses, particular subtypes often mediate inputs from distinct functional pathways. In retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), NMDARs contribute to synaptic responses elicited by light stimulus onset ("ON") and offset ("OFF"), but roles for particular NMDAR subtypes, and potential segregation between the ON and OFF pathways, have not been explored. Moreover, elements in the retinal circuitry release two different NMDAR coagonists, glycine and d-serine, but the effects of endogenous coagonist release on the relative contribution of different NMDAR subtypes are unclear. Here, we show that coagonist release within the retina modulates the relative contribution of different NMDARs in the ON pathway of the rat retina. By pharmacologically stimulating functional pathways independently in acute slices and recording synaptic responses in RGCs, we show that ON inputs, but not OFF inputs, are mediated in part by NMDARs exhibiting NR2B-like pharmacology. Furthermore, suppressing release of NMDAR coagonist reduces NMDAR activation at ON synapses and increases the relative contribution of these putative NR2B-containing receptors. These results demonstrate direct evidence for evoked coagonist release onto NMDARs and indicate that modulating coagonist release may regulate the relative activation of different NMDAR subtypes in the ON pathway.
In the mammalian retina, A17 amacrine cells provide reciprocal inhibitory feedback to rod bipolar cells, thereby shaping the time course of visual signaling in vivo. Previous results have indicated that A17 feedback can be triggered by Ca(2+) influx through Ca(2+)-permeable AMPA receptors and can occur independently of voltage-gated Ca(2+) (Ca(v)) channels, whose presence and functional role in A17 dendrites have not yet been explored. We combined electrophysiology, calcium imaging and immunohistochemistry and found that L-type Ca(v) channels in rat A17 amacrine cells were located at the sites of reciprocal synaptic feedback and that their contribution to GABA release was diminished by large-conductance Ca(2+)-activated potassium (BK) channels, which suppress postsynaptic depolarization in A17s and limit Ca(v) channel activation. We also found that BK channels, by limiting GABA release from A17s, regulate the flow of excitatory synaptic transmission through the rod pathway.
Fast synaptic transmission requires tight colocalization of Ca(2+) channels and neurotransmitter vesicles. It is generally thought that Ca(2+) channels are expressed abundantly in presynaptic active zones, that vesicles within the same active zone have similar release properties, and that significant vesicle depletion only occurs at synapses with high release probability. Here we show, at excitatory CA3?CA1 synapses in mouse hippocampus, that release from individual vesicles is generally triggered by only one Ca(2+) channel and that only few functional Ca(2+) channels may be spread in the active zone at variable distances to neighboring neurotransmitter vesicles. Using morphologically realistic Monte Carlo simulations, we show that this arrangement leads to a widely heterogeneous distribution of release probability across the vesicles docked at the active zone, and that depletion of the vesicles closest to Ca(2+) channels can account for the Ca(2+) dependence of short-term plasticity at these synapses. These findings challenge the prevailing view that efficient synaptic transmission requires numerous presynaptic Ca(2+) channels in the active zone, and indicate that the relative arrangement of Ca(2+) channels and vesicles contributes to the heterogeneity of release probability within and across synapses and to vesicle depletion at small central synapses with low average release probability.
Follicular helper T cells (T(FH) cells) constitute the CD4(+) T cell subset that is specialized to provide help to germinal center (GC) B cells and, consequently, mediate the development of long-lived humoral immunity. T(FH) cell differentiation is driven by the transcription factor Bcl6, and recent studies have identified cytokine and cell-cell signals that drive Bcl6 expression. However, although T(FH) dysregulation is associated with several major autoimmune diseases, the mechanisms underlying the negative regulation of T(FH) cell differentiation are poorly understood. In this study, we show that STAT5 inhibits T(FH) cell differentiation and function. Constitutive STAT5 signaling in activated CD4(+) T cells selectively blocked T(FH) cell differentiation and GCs, and IL-2 signaling was a primary inducer of this pathway. Conversely, STAT5-deficient CD4(+) T cells (mature STAT5(fl/fl) CD4(+) T cells transduced with a Cre-expressing vector) rapidly up-regulated Bcl6 expression and preferentially differentiated into T(FH) cells during T cell priming in vivo. STAT5 signaling failed to inhibit T(FH) cell differentiation in the absence of the transcription factor Blimp-1, a direct repressor of Bcl6 expression and T(FH) cell differentiation. These results demonstrate that IL-2, STAT5, and Blimp-1 collaborate to negatively regulate T(FH) cell differentiation.
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