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 Functional and structural organization of synapses

(Regina Dahlhaus, Rashmi Ahuja, Akvile Inciute)

Cytoskeletal structures may constrain or organize the endocytic machinery at the plasma membrane. Specific sites, or ”hot spots”, for synaptic vesicle recycling have been observed in Drosophila nerve terminals sug­gesting the existence of some kind of supramolecular organization. A highly ordered spatial organization of the endocytosis machinery might be of special importance in systems where endocytosis needs to be fast and efficient, e. g. in synapses where the synaptic vesicle pool is replenished via compensatory endocytosis.

Cytoskeletal structures may constrain or organize the endocytic machinery at the plasma membrane. Specific sites, or ”hot spots”, for synaptic vesicle recycling have been observed in Drosophila nerve terminals suggesting the existence of some kind of supramolecular organization. A highly ordered spatial organization of the endocytosis machinery might be of special importance in systems where endocytosis needs to be fast and efficient, e. g. in synapses where the synaptic vesicle pool is replenished via compensatory endocytosis.

It seems likely that the organization of sites of endocytosis is determined by links to the actin cytoskeleton via multifunctional scaffolding proteins. In Drosophila melanogaster . an intriguingly defined organization of endo- and exocytosis can indeed be observed. Light- and electron-microscopic studies of synapses using markers defining areas of endocytosis, the location of the synaptic vesicle reserve pool and sites of exocytosis (active zones) as well as investigations of the synaptic actin cytoskeleton may lead to deeper insights into the dynamic interplay of membrane trafficking events and their connection to the synaptic cytoskeleton (Figure 1). This knowledge may help to understand how the high speed and efficiency of membrane trafficking in the synapse is achieved.

Syndapin I and synaptophysin colocalize in primary hippocampal neurons.

Fig. 1: Syndapin I and synaptophysin colocalize in primary hippocampal neurons. Primary hippocampal neurons were immunostained for syndapin I (green) and the presynaptic marker synaptophysin (red). Overlap of red and green appears in yellow.

The regulation of cell shape requires both reorganizations of the cytoskeleton and adaptations of the plasma membrane and its protein and lipid content. We are therefore also studying the role of syndapins, Abp1 and other proteins at the functional interface between actin cytoskeleton and membrane trafficking in neuronal morphogenesis at different stages of development (for an example see Kessels et al., 2001; Qualmann et al., 2004).

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