Narcine brasiliensis electric organ was stimulated to fatigue in vivo. Electrical display of organ output and biochemical assay of bound acetylcholine (ACh) and ATP in isolated vesicles were used to assess the state of fatigue relative to denervated control organs of the same fish. A morphometric analysis of the fate of the synaptic vesicle populations in the nerve terminals was carried out. Statistically significant morphological changes in vesicle populations and plasma membranes were observed between control and fatigued electroplaque stacks from individual fish. Pooled data from several fish were used to evaluate the possible role of the different vesicle types in neurotransmission. Fatigue resulted in the loss of 49% of the total vesicle population and a 76% loss of vesicles with bound calcium (Ca). An approximately equivalent increase in the nerve-terminal plasma membrane area was measured. This was predominantly in the form of fingerlike protrusions and/or invaginations of the terminals which were present in the control organs but which were significantly increased by stimulation. Vesicle attachments to the nerve terminal membrane were reduced by 90%. This suggests that the failure in transmission may be due to reduction in the number of vesicles which are loaded with transmitter and can attach to the terminal membrane. The Ca-binding capacity of the lost vesicles was not transferred to the plasma membranes. This result was interpreted as support for the hypothesis that vesicle-bound ATP provides the Ca-binding site.

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