Effects of Botulinum Neurotoxin Type A on the Expression of Gephyrin in Cat Abducens Motoneurons

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In this study, we investigated the effects of long-term synaptic blockade on postsynaptic receptor clustering at central inhibitory glycinergic synapses. High doses of botulinum neurotoxin type A injected in the lateral rectus muscle completely abolishes inhibitory postsynaptic potentials onto abducens motoneurons within 2 days postinjection, and transmission remains blocked for at least 2 months. Using this model, we analyzed the expression of gephyrin, a glycine receptor clustering protein, on the membrane of motoneuron somata after botulinum neurotoxin type A injection in their target muscle. Immunofluorescence or electron microscopy immunohistochemistry revealed gephyrin-immunoreactive clusters (most < 0.5 μm in diameter) densely covering the surface of control abducens motoneurons. Ultrastructurally, presynaptic terminals containing flattened synaptic vesicles (F terminals) were found associated with multiple gephyrin-immunoreactive postsynaptic densities (average 1.24 gephyrin clusters/F+ profile). No significant changes in gephyrin-immunoreactive clusters were observed at 5 days postinjection, but we found significant reductions (25–40%) in the density of gephyrin clusters 19 and 35 days postinjection. Hence, the physiological alterations reported in this model precede structural changes on postsynaptic receptor cluster density. The decrease in gephyrin-immunoreactive clusters was paralleled by reductions in synaptic covering (F+ terminals per 100 μm of membrane). Presumed inactive F+ terminals that remained attached to the motoneuron surface displayed normal gephyrin-immunoreactive clusters; however, the pre- and postsynaptic membranes in between synaptic active zones frequently appeared separated by enlarged extracellular spaces. We concluded that postsynaptic receptor cluster dissolution seemed more directly related to terminal retraction than to inactivity alone. J. Comp. Neurol. 400:1–17, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.



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