In mature neurons, synaptic vesicles continuously recycle within the presynaptic nerve terminal. In developing axons which are free of contact with a postsynaptic target, constitutive membrane recycling is not localized to the nerve terminal; instead, plasma membrane components undergo cycles of exoendocytosis throughout the whole axonal surface (Matteoli et al., 1992; Kraszewski et al., 1995). Moreover, in growing Xenopus spinal cord neurons in culture, acetylcholine (ACh) is spontaneously secreted in the quantal fashion along the axonal shaft (Evers et al., 1989; Antonov et al., 1998). Here we demonstrate that in Xenopus neurons ACh secretion is mediated by vesicles which recycle locally within the axon. Similar to neurotransmitter release at the presynaptic nerve terminal, ACh secretion along the axon could be elicited by the action potential or by hypertonic solutions. We found that the parameters of neurotransmitter secretion at the nerve terminal and at the middle axon were strikingly similar. These results lead us to conclude that, as in the case of the presynaptic nerve terminal, synaptic vesicles involved in neurotransmitter release along the axon contain a complement of proteins for vesicle docking and Ca2+-dependent fusion. Taken together, our results support the idea that, in developing axons, the rudimentary machinery for quantal neurotransmitter secretion is distributed throughout the whole axonal surface. Maturation of this machinery in the process of synaptic development would improve the fidelity of synaptic transmission during high-frequency stimulation of the presynaptic cell.

You do not currently have access to this content.