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Ultrastructural analysis of chemical synapses and gap junctions between Drosophila brain neurons in culture.


Dissociated cultures from many species have been important tools for exploring factors that regulate structure and function of central neuronal synapses. We have previously shown that cells harvested from brains of late stage Drosophila pupae can regenerate their processes in vitro. Electrophysiological recordings demonstrate the formation of functional synaptic connections as early as 3 days in vitro (DIV), but no information about synapse structure is available. Here, we report that antibodies against pre-synaptic proteins Synapsin and Bruchpilot result in punctate staining of regenerating neurites. Puncta density increases as neuritic plexuses develop over the first 4 DIV. Electron microscopy reveals that closely apposed neurites can form chemical synapses with both pre- and postsynaptic specializations characteristic of many inter-neuronal synapses in the adult brain. Chemical synapses in culture are restricted to neuritic processes and some neurite pairs form reciprocal synapses. GABAergic synapses have a significantly higher percentage of clear core versus granular vesicles than non-GABA synapses. Gap junction profiles, some adjacent to chemical synapses, suggest that neurons in culture can form purely electrical as well as mixed synapses, as they do in the brain. However, unlike adult brain, gap junctions in culture form between neuronal somata as well as neurites, suggesting soma ensheathing glia, largely absent in culture, regulate gap junction location in vivo. Thus pupal brain cultures, which support formation of interneuronal synapses with structural features similar to synapses in adult brain, are a useful model system for identifying intrinsic and extrinsic regulators of central synapse structure as well as function.

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