Assembly, plasticity and selective vulnerability to disease of mouse neuromuscular junctions

J Neurocytol. Jun-Sep 2003;32(5-8):849-62. doi: 10.1023/B:NEUR.0000020628.36013.88.


Although physiological differences among neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) have long been known, NMJs have usually been considered as one type of synapse, restricting their potential value as model systems to investigate mechanisms controlling synapse assembly and plasticity. Here we discuss recent evidence that skeletal muscles in the mouse can be subdivided into two previously unrecognized subtypes, designated FaSyn and DeSyn muscles. These muscles differ in the pattern of neuromuscular synaptogenesis during embryonic development. Differences between classes are intrinsic to the muscles, and manifest in the absence of innervation or agrin. The distinct rates of synaptogenesis in the periphery may influence processes of circuit maturation through retrograde signals. While NMJs on FaSyn and DeSyn muscles exhibit a comparable anatomical organization in postnatal mice, treatments that challenge synaptic stability result in nerve sprouting, NMJ remodeling, and ectopic synaptogenesis selectively on DeSyn muscles. This anatomical plasticity of NMJs diminishes greatly between 2 and 6 months postnatally. NMJs lacking this plasticity are lost selectively and very early on in mouse models of motoneuron disease, suggesting that disease-associated motoneuron dysfunction may fail to initiate maintenance processes at "non-plastic" NMJs. Transgenic mice overexpressing growth-promoting proteins in motoneurons exhibit greatly enhanced stimulus-induced sprouting restricted to DeSyn muscles, supporting the notion that anatomical plasticity at the NMJ is primarily controlled by processes in the postsynaptic muscle. The discovery that entire muscles in the mouse differ substantially in the anatomical plasticity of their synapses establishes NMJs as a uniquely advantageous experimental system to investigate mechanisms controlling synaptic rearrangements at defined synapses in vivo.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Susceptibility* / metabolism
  • Disease Susceptibility* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neuromuscular Junction / cytology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*