Brief occurrence of a population of presynaptic intramembrane particles coincides with transmission of a nerve impulse

D. Muller, L. M. Garcia-Segura, A. Parducz, Y. Dunant

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Small pieces of Torpedo electric organ were cryofixed at 1-ms time intervals in a liquid medium at -190°C before, during, and after the passage of a single nerve impulse. In contrast to studies using this or other preparations, these experiments were done without 4-aminopyridine or other drugs that potentiate transmitter release. Freeze-fracture replicas were made from the most superficial layers of the tissue, where the rate of cooling was rapid enough to retain ultrastructure in the absence of chemical fixation. We found that the transmission of an impulse was accompanied by the momentary appearance of a population of large intramembrane particles in both the protoplasmic (P) and the external (E) leaflets of the presynaptic plasma membrane. The change was very brief, appearing soon after the stimulus artifact. It lasted for 2-3 ms. Large pits denoting vesicle openings at the presynaptic membrane were found in a small proportion of nerve terminals; their number did not increase during transmission of the nerve impulse. Reducing the temperature from 16 to 5°C slowed the time course of both the electrophysiological response and the change in intramembrane particles. The number of large particles did not increase when stimulation was applied in a low-Ca medium, a condition where the nerve terminals were still depolarized by the action potential but did not release the neurotransmitter. From these and other observations, we conclude that this transient change of intramembrane particles is closely linked to the mechanism of acetylcholine release at the nerve-electroplaque junction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-594
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1987


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