A Novel Synaptic Vesicle Fusion Path in the Rat Cerebral Cortex: The “Saddle” Point Hypothesis
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100710
We improved freeze-fracture electron microscopy to study synapses in the neuropil of the rat cerebral cortex at ∼2 nm resolution and in three-dimensions. In the pre-synaptic axon, we found that "rods" assembled from short filaments protruding from the vesicle and the plasma membrane connects synaptic vesicles to the membrane of the active zone. We equated these "connector rods" to protein complexes involved in "docking" and "priming" vesicles to the active zone. Depending on their orientation, the "rods" define two synaptic vesicle-fusion paths: When parallel to the plasma membrane, the vesicles hemi-fuse anywhere ("randomly") in the active zone following the conventional path anticipated by the SNARE hypothesis. When perpendicular to the plasma membrane, the vesicles hemi-fuse at the base of sharp crooks, called "indentations," that are spaced 75-85 nm center-to-center, arranged in files and contained within gutters. They result from primary and secondary membrane curvatures that intersect at stationary inflection ("saddle") points. Computer simulations indicate that this novel vesicle-fusion path evokes neurotransmitter concentration domains on the post-synaptic spine that are wider, shallower, and that reach higher average concentrations than the more conventional vesicle fusion path. In the post-synaptic spine, large (∼9× ∼15 nm) rectangular particles at densities of 72±10/ µm2 (170-240/spine) match the envelopes of the homotetrameric GluR2 AMPA-sensitive receptor. While these putative receptors join clusters, called the "post-synaptic domains," the overwhelming majority of the rectangular particles formed bands in the "non-synaptic" plasma membrane of the spine. In conclusion, in the neuropil of the rat cerebral cortex, curvatures of the plasma membrane define a novel vesicle-fusion path that preconditions specific regions of the active zone for neurotransmitter release. We hypothesize that a change in the hybridization of the R-SNARE synaptobrevin from parallel to antiparallel swings the synapse into this novel vesicle-fusion path.