Taking advantage of the fact that nerve terminal mitochondria swell and sequester calcium during repetitive nerve stimulation, we here confirm that this change is caused by calcium influx into the nerve and use this fact to show that botulinum toxin abolishes such calcium influx. The optimal paradigm for producing the mitochondrial changes in normal nerves worked out to be 5 min of stimulation at 25 Hz in frog Ringer's solution containing five time more calcium than normal. Applying this same stimulation paradigm to botulinum-intoxicated nerves produced no mitochondrial changes at all. Only when intoxicated nerves were stimulated in 4-aminopyridine (which grossly exaggerates calcium currents in normal nerves) or when they were soaked in black widow spider venom (which is a nerve-specific calcium ionophore) could nerve mitochondria be induced to swell and accumulate calcium. These results indicate that nerve mitochondria are not damaged directly by the toxin and point instead to a primary inhibition of the normal depolarization-evoked calcium currents that accompany nerve activity. Because these currents normally provide the calcium that triggers transmitter secretion from the nerve, this demonstration of their inhibition helps to explain how botulinum toxin paralyzes.

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