The fluorophore FM1-43 appears to stain membranes of recycled synaptic vesicles. We used FM1-43 to study mechanisms of synaptic vesicle clustering and mobilization in living frog motor nerve terminals. FM1-43 staining of these terminals produces a linear series of fluorescent spots, each spot marking the cluster of several hundred synaptic vesicles at an active zone. Most agents we tested did not affect staining, but the phosphatase inhibitor okadaic acid (OA) disrupted the fluorescent spots, causing dye to spread throughout the terminal. Consistent with this, electron microscopy showed that vesicle clusters were disrupted by OA treatment. However, dye did not spread passively to a uniform spatial distribution. Instead, time lapse movies showed clear evidence of active dye movements, as if synaptic vesicles were being swept along by an active translocation mechanism. Large dye accumulations sometimes occurred at sites of Schwann cell nuclei. These effects of OA were not significantly affected by pretreatment with colchicine or cytochalasin D. Electrophysiological recordings showed that OA treatment reduced the amount of acetylcholine released in response to nerve stimulation. The results suggest that an increased level of protein phosphorylation induced by OA treatment mobilizes synaptic vesicles and unmasks a powerful vesicle translocation mechanism, which may function normally to distribute synaptic vesicles between active zones.

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