Roles of neurotransmitter in synapse formation: development of neuromuscular junctions lacking choline acetyltransferase

Neuron. 2002 Nov 14;36(4):635-48. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(02)01020-6.


Activity-dependent and -independent signals collaborate to regulate synaptogenesis, but their relative contributions are unclear. Here, we describe the formation of neuromuscular synapses at which neurotransmission is completely and specifically blocked by mutation of the neurotransmitter-synthesizing enzyme choline acetyltransferase. Nerve terminals differentiate extensively in the absence of neurotransmitter, but neurotransmission plays multiple roles in synaptic differentiation. These include influences on the numbers of pre- and postsynaptic partners, the distribution of synapses in the target field, the number of synaptic sites per target cell, and the number of axons per synaptic site. Neurotransmission also regulates the formation or stability of transient acetylcholine receptor-rich processes (myopodia) that may initiate nerve-muscle contact. At subsequent stages, neurotransmission delays some steps in synaptic maturation but accelerates others. Thus, neurotransmission affects synaptogenesis from early stages and coordinates rather than drives synaptic maturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / biosynthesis
  • Acetylcholine / deficiency*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / deficiency*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / genetics
  • Diaphragm / abnormalities
  • Diaphragm / innervation
  • Diaphragm / ultrastructure
  • Fetus
  • Gene Deletion
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neuromuscular Junction / abnormalities*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Neuromuscular Junction / ultrastructure
  • Phrenic Nerve / abnormalities
  • Phrenic Nerve / ultrastructure
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics*


  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholine