The labeling patterns produced by radioiodinated botulinum neurotoxin (125I-BoNT) types A and B at the vertebrate neuromuscular junction were investigated using electron microscopic autoradiography. The data obtained allow the following conclusions to be made. 125I-BoNT type A, applied in vivo or in vitro to mouse diaphragm or frog cutaneous pectoris muscle, interacts saturably with the motor nerve terminal only; silver grains occur on the plasma membrane, within the synaptic bouton, and in the axoplasm of the nerve trunk, suggesting internalization and retrograde intra-axonal transport of toxin or fragments thereof. 125I-BoNT type B, applied in vitro to the murine neuromuscular junction, interacts likewise with the motor nerve terminal except that a lower proportion of internalized radioactivity is seen. This result is reconcilable with the similar, but not identical, pharmacological action of these toxin types. The saturability of labeling in each case suggested the involvement of acceptors; on preventing the internalization step with metabolic inhibitors, their precise location became apparent. They were found on all unmyelinated areas of the nerve terminal membrane, including the preterminal axon and the synaptic bouton. Although 125I-BoNT type A interacts specifically with developing terminals of newborn rats, the unmyelinated plasma membrane of the nerve trunk is not labeled, indicating that the acceptors are unique components restricted to the nerve terminal area. BoNT types A and B have distinct acceptors on the terminal membrane. Having optimized the conditions for saturation of these binding sites and calibrated the autoradiographic procedure, we found the densities of the acceptors for types A and B to be approximately 150 and 630/micron 2 of membrane, respectively. It is proposed that these membrane acceptors target BoNT to the nerve terminal and mediate its delivery to an intracellular site, thus contributing to the toxin's selective inhibitory action on neurotransmitter release.

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