Glutamate receptor dynamics organizing synapse formation in vivo

Nat Neurosci. 2005 Jul;8(7):898-905. doi: 10.1038/nn1484.


Insight into how glutamatergic synapses form in vivo is important for understanding developmental and experience-triggered changes of excitatory circuits. Here, we imaged postsynaptic densities (PSDs) expressing a functional, GFP-tagged glutamate receptor subunit (GluR-IIA(GFP)) at neuromuscular junctions of Drosophila melanogaster larvae for several days in vivo. New PSDs, associated with functional and structural presynaptic markers, formed independently of existing synapses and grew continuously until reaching a stable size within hours. Both in vivo photoactivation and photobleaching experiments showed that extrasynaptic receptors derived from diffuse, cell-wide pools preferentially entered growing PSDs. After entering PSDs, receptors were largely immobilized. In comparison, other postsynaptic proteins tested (PSD-95, NCAM and PAK homologs) exchanged faster and with no apparent preference for growing synapses. We show here that new glutamatergic synapses form de novo and not by partitioning processes from existing synapses, suggesting that the site-specific entry of particular glutamate receptor complexes directly controls the assembly of individual PSDs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Larva
  • Luminescent Agents
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Receptors, AMPA / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Luminescent Agents
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • postsynaptic density proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • glutamate receptor ionotropic, AMPA 2