Axon withdrawal during synapse elimination at the neuromuscular junction is accompanied by disassembly of the postsynaptic specialization and withdrawal of Schwann cell processes

Susan M. Culican, Carla C. Nelson, Jeff W. Lichtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations

Abstract

Nerve terminal withdrawal is accompanied by a loss of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) at corresponding postsynaptic sites during the process of synapse elimination at developing (Balice-Gordon and Lichtman, 1993) and reinnervated adult (Rich and Lichtman, 1989a) neuromuscular junctions. Aside from AChR and nerve terminal loss, however, the molecular and cellular alterations that occur at sites of elimination are unknown. To gain a better understanding of the cascade of events that leads to the disassembly of synaptic sites during the synapse elimination process, we surveyed the distribution of molecular elements of the postsynaptic specialization, the basal lamina, and supporting Schwann cells during the process of synapse elimination that occurs after reinnervation. In addition, quantitative techniques were used to determine the temporal order of disappearance of molecules that were lost relative to the loss of postsynaptic AChRs. We found that the dismantling of the postsynaptic specialization was inhomogeneous, with evidence of rapid dissolution of some aspects of the postsynaptic apparatus and slower loss of others. We also observed a loss of Schwann cell processes from sites of synapse elimination, with a time course similar to that seen for nerve terminal retraction. In contrast, all of the extracellular markers that we examined were lost slowly from sites of synapse loss. We therefore conclude that the synapse elimination process is synapse- wide, removing not only nerve terminals but also Schwann cells and many aspects of the postsynaptic apparatus. The disassembly occurs in a stereotyped sequence with some synaptic elements appearing much more stable than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4953-4965
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume18
Issue number13
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 1998
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • AChR
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • Postsynaptic specialization
  • Schwann cell
  • Synapse elimination
  • Synaptic competition

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