Neurotransmitters play an important role in the communication of nerve cells. Major details of the processes involved have been unclear until recently. Scientists of the University of Würzburg have now shed light on these processes by using a new technique.
All human thoughts, feelings and actions are based on the fact that nerve cells communicate with each other. They pass impulses via synapses, intensify, weaken or block them. Like a ferry crossing a river, chemical messengers, the so-called neurotransmitters, pass from one side of the synapse to the other crossing a gap that is less than thousands of millimetres wide to dock to special synaptic receptors on the adjacent neuron.
The molecular make-up of synaptic structures responsible for passing impulses is not fully known until today. Using a special imaging technique, scientists from the University of Würzburg have now succeeded in making processes at the nanoscale visible. They present their results in the latest issue of Nature Communications.
Molecular machines in active zones
"The release of neurotransmitters in the so-called 'active zone' - a highly specialised sub-cellular region of the presynaptic neuron - is responsible for the information transfer at chemical synapses," explains Dr. Robert Kittel, who is the head of an Emmy Noether Group at the Department of Physiology of the University of Würzburg which focuses on the molecular mechanisms of synapses.
Since 2009, he has studied the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to learn more about the active zone's physiology. He is particularly interested in the question of how structural changes of this active zone contribute to synaptic plasticity, thus enabling learning, for instance.
As Kittel puts it, "complex molecular machines" are at work in an active zone which convey the "extremely high spatial and temporal precisions of synaptic signal transduction". The neurotransmitter release is preceded by multi-stage processes in the active zone in the course of which the neutron provides the neurotransmitters in so-called vesicles.
An exact image of the spatial distribution of the active zone's molecular constituents and thus information regarding the organisational principles has been the goal of Kittel's research for a long time, because it is these properties which are decisive for the function of the active zone. Collaborating with fellow Würzburg scientists, he has now moved closer to this goal.
Super-resolution optical microscopy
The breakthrough came with the cooperation with Professor Markus Sauer, head of the Department of Biotechnology and Biophysics at University of Würzburg's Biocenter. Together with his team, Sauer developed a method capable of delivering the desired images. Its name: dSTORM – direct Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy. A special form of high-resolution fluorescence microscopy, it enables imaging cellular structures and molecules with a ten- to hundred-fold increase in resolution compared to standard optical microscopy. The scale of the imaged objects is in the range of a few nanometres – that is, millionths of millimetres.
Electrophysiological measurements at the neurons of Drosophila combined with the dSTORM images then delivered the information the scientist had been looking for: the relationship between the spatial arrangement of special proteins at nanoscale and the functional properties of the active zone.
In fact, this enabled the researchers to count the copies of the so-called "Bruchpilot" protein in the active zones and thereby work out quantitative structure-function relationships. "The analysis of the spatial organisation of molecules provides us information regarding the functional mechanisms of the active zone and helps us shed light on the basic mechanisms of brain function," is how the researchers interpret the result.
Quantitative super-resolution imaging of Bruchpilot distinguishes active zone states. Nadine Ehmann, Sebastian van de Linde, Amit Alon, Dmitrij Ljaschenko, Xi Zhen Keung, Thorge Holm, Annika Rings, Aaron DiAntonio, Stefan Hallermann, Uri Ashery, Manfred Heckmann, Markus Sauer & Robert J. Kittel, Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5650
Dr. Robert Kittel, Telephone: +49 931 31-86046, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Markus Sauer, Telephone: +49 931-88687, email@example.com
Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Stress triggers key molecule to halt transcription of cell's genetic code
28.05.2015 | Stowers Institute for Medical Research
Chemists discover key reaction mechanism behind the highly touted sodium-oxygen battery
28.05.2015 | University of Waterloo
Using ultrashort laser pulses, scientists in Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have demonstrated the emission of extreme ultraviolet radiation from thin dielectric films and have investigated the underlying mechanisms.
In 1961, only shortly after the invention of the first laser, scientists exposed silicon dioxide crystals (also known as quartz) to an intense ruby laser to...
The only professorship in Germany to date, one master's programme, one laboratory with worldwide unique equipment and the corresponding research results: The University of Würzburg is leading in the field of biofabrication.
Paul Dalton is presently the only professor of biofabrication in Germany. About a year ago, the Australian researcher relocated to the Würzburg department for...
Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits. To achieve this, they have developed a layout in which a nanocomponent is connected to two electrical conductors, which uncouple the electrical signal in a highly efficient manner. The scientists at the Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel have published their results in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” together with their colleagues from ETH Zurich.
Electronic components are becoming smaller and smaller. Components measuring just a few nanometers – the size of around ten atoms – are already being produced...
Development and implementation of an advanced automobile parking navigation platform for parking services
To fulfill the requirements of the industry, PolyU researchers developed the Advanced Automobile Parking Navigation Platform, which includes smart devices,...
The world's first electrical car and passenger ferry powered by batteries has entered service in Norway. The ferry only uses 150 kWh per route, which...
20.05.2015 | Event News
18.05.2015 | Event News
12.05.2015 | Event News
28.05.2015 | Press release
28.05.2015 | Physics and Astronomy
28.05.2015 | Information Technology