Action of brown widow spider venom and botulinum toxin on the frog neuromuscular junction examined with the freeze-fracture technique

J Physiol. 1977 Dec;273(2):443-57. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1977.sp012103.


1. Structural changes which normally accompany transmitter release at frog neuromuscular junctions are visualized with the freeze-fracture technique. The effects of brown widow spider venom and botulinum toxin were evaluated in terms of their ability to block or produce these structural changes. Changes produced by these neuropoisons were correlated with their known effects on neurotransmitter release. 3. Fusion of synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic plasmalemma, normally evoked by electrical stimulation, was abolished at neuromuscular junctions from frogs treated with botulinum toxin. 3. The concentration of large intramembranous particles in the presynaptic plasmalemma, an indication of the excess of synaptic vesicle fusion over recovery of synaptic vesicle membrane, was increased by treatment with brown widow spider venom, even in the presence of botulinum toxin. 4. When external calcium was present, sites of vesicle fusion induced by brown widow spider venom, as well as by electrical stimulation, were located mainly in the active zone. In the absence of external calcium, many plasmalemmal deformations, also though to be sites of vesicle fusion, were more evenly dispersed over the presynaptic surface of nerve terminals. 5. Botulinum toxin decreased the number of vesicle fusion sites in the active zone induced by spider venom in the presence of external calcium but had little effect on the number of fusion sites induced by spider venom in the absence of external calcium. 6. Nerve terminals soaked in a sodium-free Ringer solution were partially depleted of vesicles. Addition of spider venom to this Ringer did not cause additional depletion of vesicles. 7. Formation of cation-permeable channels in the presynaptic membrane could account for these effects of spider venom on the frog neuromuscular junction. Botulinum toxin blocks vesicle fusion by some means which is not yet understood.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anura
  • Arthropod Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Botulinum Toxins / pharmacology*
  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Freeze Fracturing
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neuromuscular Junction / drug effects*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / ultrastructure
  • Rana pipiens
  • Spider Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Vesicles / drug effects
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure


  • Arthropod Venoms
  • Spider Venoms
  • Botulinum Toxins
  • Calcium