The release of neurotransmitter from a single synaptic vesicle generates a quantal response, which at excitatory synapses in voltage-clamped neurons is referred to as a miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (mEPSC). We analyzed mEPSCs in cultured mouse hippocampal neurons and in HEK cells expressing postsynaptic proteins enabling them to receive synaptic inputs from cocultured neurons. mEPSC amplitudes and rise-times varied widely within and between cells. In neurons, mEPSCs with larger amplitudes had longer rise-times, and this correlation was stronger in neurons with longer mean rise-times. In HEK cells, this correlation was weak and unclear. Standard mechanisms thought to govern mEPSCs cannot account for these results. We therefore developed models to simulate mEPSCs and assess their dependence on different factors. Modeling indicated that longer diffusion times for transmitters released by larger vesicles to reach more distal receptors cannot account for the correlation between rise-time and amplitude. By contrast, incorporating the vesicle size dependence of fusion pore expulsion time recapitulated experimental results well. Larger vesicles produce mEPSCs with larger amplitudes and also take more time to lose their content. Thus, fusion pore flux directly contributes to mEPSC rise-time. Variations in fusion pores account for differences among neurons, between neurons and HEK cells, and the correlation between rise-time and the slope of rise-time versus amplitude plots. Plots of mEPSC amplitude versus rise-time are sensitive to otherwise inaccessible properties of a synapse and offer investigators a means of assessing the role of fusion pores in synaptic release.

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