Intact neurons in cultures of fetal rodent spinal cord explants show stimulation-dependent uptake of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) into many small vesicles and occasional tubules and multivesicular bodies (MVB) at presynaptic terminals. Presynaptic terminals were allowed to take up HRP during 1 h of strychnine-enhanced stimulation of synaptic transmitter release and then "chased" in tracer-free medium either with strychnine or with 10 mM Mg++ which depresses transmitter release. Tracer-containing vesicles are lost from terminals under both chase conditions; the loss is more rapid (4-8 h) with strychnine than with 10 mM Mg++ (8-16 h). There is a parallel decrease in the numbers of labeled MVB's at terminals. Loss of tracer with 10 mM Mg++ does not appear to be due to the membrane rearrangements (exocytosis coupled to endocytosis) that presumably lead to initial tracer uptake; terminals exposed to HRP and Mg++ for up to 16 h show little tracer uptake into vesicles. Nor is the decrease likely to the due to loss of HRP enzyme activity; HRP is very stable in solution. During the chases there is a striking accumulation of HRP in perikarya that is far more extensive in cultures initially exposed to tracer with strychnine than 10 mM Mg++ regardless of chase conditions. Much of the tracer ends up in large dense bodies. These findings suggest that synaptic vesicle membrane turnover involves retrograde axonal transport of membrane to neuronal perikarya for further processing, including lysosomal degradation. The more rapid (4-8 h) loss of tracer-containing vesicles with strychnine may reflect vesicle membrane reutilization for exocytosis.

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