Small tissue fragments excised from the electric organ of Torpedo marmorata were treated with diamide, a penetrating thiol oxidizing agent, until synaptic transmission was blocked. At this stage, we found an unexpected number of exo-endocytotic images in the presynaptic plasmalemma. Omega-shaped profiles, some of them coated, were seen in thin sections of fixed tissue and pits opened in the P-face of the presynaptic membrane in freeze-fracture replicas from rapidly-frozen preparations. Diamide-treated specimens were frozen at 1 ms time intervals before, during and after a single electrical stimulus. This stimulation did not result in a further increase in the density of presynaptic pits, not in any change affecting the density or size distribution of intramembrane particles. This result is in contrast with what is observed in untreated specimens where transmission of a nerve impulse is accompanied by a momentary rise in the number of large particles. The density of synaptic vesicles-especially that of a subpopulation of small size vesicles-transiently increased within the first 2 h of diamide treatment. During the first stages of intoxication, diamide prolonged the time course of postsynaptic potentials-both spontaneous and evoked-probably by altering the gating properties of receptors (acetylcholinesterase activity was not impaired). Later on, all evoked responses were blocked. The spontaneous transmitter release greatly increased, first in the form of quantal miniature potentials. These then subsided whereas a class of very small potentials was generated at a high frequency. Also under the action of diamide,45 calcium progressively accumulated in the tissue but the number of synaptic vesicles containing calcium deposits was reduced. It is concluded that diamide causes a marked increase in the number of exo-endocytotic images in the presynaptic membrane, suppresses quantal but not subquantal release, and interferes with calcium sequestration in and extrusion from terminals.
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