Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Synapses always on the starting blocks

28.10.2014

Vesicles filled with neurotransmitters touch the cell membrane, thereby enabling their rapid-fire release

While neurons rapidly propagate information in their interior via electrical signals, they communicate with each other at special contact points known as the synapses. Chemical messenger substances, the neurotransmitters, are stored in vesicles at the synapses.


Three-dimensional reconstruction of a synapse in the mouse brain. Readily releasable fusionable synaptic vesicles (blue, around 45 millionths of a millimetre in diameter) are docked at the cell membrane.

© MPI f. Experimental Medicine/ Benjamin H. Cooper

When a synapse becomes active, some of these vesicles fuse with the cell membrane and release their contents. To ensure that valuable time is not lost, synapses always have some readily releasable vesicles on standby. With the help of high-resolution, three-dimensional electron microscopy, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Göttingen succeeded in demonstrating that these fusionable vesicles have a very special characteristic: they already have close contact with the cell membrane long before the actual fusion occurs. In addition, the research team also decoded the molecular machinery that facilitates the operation of this docking mechanism.

The fusion of the neurotransmitter vesicles with the cell membrane involves close cooperation between numerous protein components, which monitor each other and ensure that every single ‘participant’ is always in the right place. This is referred to as the fusion machinery and the comparison is an apt one: if a cogwheel in a clock mechanism is broken, the hands do not move. In a similar way, faulty or missing molecules impair synaptic operations.

In research studies carried out some years ago, Nils Brose and his colleague JeongSeop Rhee from the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Göttingen already demonstrated that the transmission of information at the synapses in genetically modified mice, in which all known genes of the Munc13 or CAPS proteins had been switched off, is severely defective.

Although the neurons of the genetically modified mice do not differ from those of healthy mice when examined under an optical microscope, if Munc13 is missing, the release of neurotransmitters actually grinds to a halt completely. Brose and Rhee’s findings showed that to be able to react immediately to signals at all times, each synapse must keep a small number of ‘readily releasable’ fusionable vesicles on standby.

But how do Munc13 and CAPS convert the vesicles to this kind of fusionable state? To answer this question, the Göttingen-based scientists studied the synaptic contacts in the minutest possible detail. To do this, neurobiologists Cordelia Imig and Ben Cooper, who have been working with Brose and Rhee for many years, used a high-pressure freezing process.

This involves the rapid freezing of neurons in the brain tissue under high pressure so that no disruptive ice crystals are formed and the fine structure of the cells is particularly well conserved. The samples obtained in this way were then analysed using electron tomography. Using this method, electron microscope images of a structure are recorded from many different angles, in a similar way to the process used in medical computed tomography. The individual images can then be combined on the computer to give a high-resolution three-dimensional image – of a synapse in this case (see image).

“Our results showed that readily releasable vesicles in healthy synapses touch the cell membrane,” explains Cooper. “However, if Munc13 and CAPS proteins are missing, the vesicles do not reach the active zone and accumulate a few nanometres away from it.” To their astonishment, the researchers also observed that SNARE proteins, which collaborate with Munc13 and CAPS in the nerve endings, are also involved in this docking process. SNARE proteins are found in the cell and vesicle membranes of healthy synapses and control the fusion of the two membranes during neurotransmitter release.

When a vesicle approaches the cell membrane, the individual SNARE molecules line up opposite each other like the sides of a zip and pull the membranes close to each other in this way. The vesicles await the starting gun for their fusion in this state – in the starting blocks, so to speak.

The findings of the neurobiologists in Göttingen prove that Munc13, CAPS and SNARE proteins closely align the vesicle and cell membrane in the synapse, long before the signal for fusion is given. This is the only way that the fast and controlled transmission of information at the synapse can be guaranteed, thanks to which we can react specifically to information from our environment. “It had long been clear that synapses have to be extremely fast to carry out all of the many complex brain functions.

Our study shows for the first time how this is managed at the molecular level and on the level of the synaptic vesicles,” says Brose. Because almost all of the protein components involved in this process also play a role in neurological and psychiatric diseases, the Göttingen-based scientists believe that their discovery will soon benefit medical research.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Nils Brose

Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen
Phone:+49 551 3899-725Fax:+49 551 3899-715
 

Dr. Jeong-Seop Rhee

Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen
Phone:+49 551 3899-694Fax:+49 551 3899-715

Original publication

 
Imig, C., Min, S.-W., Krinner, S., Arancillo, M., Rosenmund, C., Südhof, T.C., Rhee, J.-S., Brose, N. and Cooper, B.H.
The morphological and molecular nature of synaptic vesicle priming at presynaptic active zones.

Prof. Dr. Nils Brose | Max-Planck-Institute

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Microscope measures muscle weakness
16.11.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

nachricht Good preparation is half the digestion
16.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>