Recycling of synaptophysin (p38), a synaptic vesicle integral membrane protein, was studied by the use of antisera raised against the protein purified from frog brain. When frog cutaneous pectoris muscles were fixed at rest, a bright, specific immunofluorescent signal was observed in nerve-terminal regions only if their plasma membranes had been previously permeabilized. When muscles were fixed after they had been treated for 1 h with a low dose of alpha-latrotoxin in Ca2+-free medium, an equally intense fluorescence could be observed without previous permeabilization. Under this condition, alpha-latrotoxin depletes nerve terminals of their quantal store of acetylcholine and of synaptic vesicles. These results indicate that fusion of synaptic vesicles leads to the exposure of intravesicular antigenic determinants of synaptophysin on the outer surface of the axolemma, and provide direct support for the vesicle hypothesis of neurotransmitter release. After 1 h treatment with the same dose of alpha-latrotoxin in the presence of 1.8 mM extracellular Ca2+, immunofluorescent images were obtained only after permeabilization with detergents. Under this condition, the vesicle population was maintained by an active process of recycling and more than two times the initial store of quanta were secreted. Thus, despite the active turnover of synaptic vesicles and of quanta of neurotransmitter, no extensive intermixing occurs between components of the vesicle and presynaptic plasma membrane.

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