The synapse-bearing nerve terminals of the opener muscle of the crayfish Procambarus were reconstructed using electron micrographs of regions which had been serially sectioned. The branching patterns of the terminals of excitatory and inhibitory axons and the locations and sizes of neuromuscular and axo-axonal synapses were studied. Excitatory and inhibitory synapses could be distinguished not only on the basis of differences in synaptic vesicles, but also by a difference in density of pre- and postsynaptic membranes. Synapses of both axons usually had one or more sharply localized presynaptic "dense bodies" around which synaptic vesicles appeared to cluster. Some synapses did not have the dense bodies. These structures may be involved in the physiological activity of the synapse. Excitatory axon terminals had more synapses, and a larger percentage of terminal surface area devoted to synaptic contacts, than inhibitory axon terminals. However, the largest synapses of the inhibitory axon exceeded in surface area those of the excitatory axon. Both axons had many side branches coming from the main terminal; often, the side branches were joined to the main terminal by narrow necks. A greater percentage of surface area was devoted to synapses in side branches than in the main terminal. Only a small fraction of total surface area was devoted to axo-axonal synapses, but these were often located at narrow necks or constrictions of the excitatory axon. This arrangement would result in effective blockage of spike invasion of regions of the terminal distal to the synapse, and would allow relatively few synapses to exert a powerful effect on transmitter release from the excitatory axon. A hypothesis to account for the development of the neuromuscular apparatus is presented, in which it is suggested that production of new synapses is more important than enlargement of old ones as a mechanism for allowing the axon to adjust transmitter output to the functional needs of the muscle.

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