Momentary alteration of the postsynaptic membrane during transmission of a single nerve impulse

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

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Transmission of a nerve impulse at neuromuscular and other synapses is an extremely brief event. By using rapid-freezing and cryofracture techniques in the electric organ of Torpedo, synaptic transmission was found to be accompanied by significant changes affecting the postsynaptic membrane for a few milliseconds. In the replicas, the protoplasmic leaflet of this membrane was seen to contain intramembrane particles (IMPs) of two different forms, globular and elongated. Globular IMPs had a mean diameter of 8.8 nm; they were the most frequently found (80%) in unstimulated specimens). Elongated IMPs had a major diameter of 17.9 nm, about twice that of globular IMPs. Transmission of a single nerve impulse was accompanied by a marked decrease in the number of globular IMPs and by an increase in the number of elongated IMPs, as if there were a coalescence of two adjacent round particles to form an elongated one. These changes started soon after the electrical stimulus and lasted for ≃3 ms. IMPs in the postsynaptic protoplasmic face are thought to correspond to a certain proportion of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that were extracted with this leaflet during the fracture process. The phenomenon described here reflects an abrupt change in the membrane, probably linked to activation of the acetylcholine nicotinic receptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1717-1720
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1989


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