At small central synapses, efficient turnover of vesicles is crucial for stimulus-driven transmission, but how the structure of this recycling pool relates to its functional role remains unclear. Here we characterize the organizational principles of functional vesicles at native hippocampal synapses with nanoscale resolution using fluorescent dye labeling and electron microscopy. We show that the recycling pool broadly scales with the magnitude of the total vesicle pool, but its average size is small (∼45 vesicles), highly variable, and regulated by CDK5/calcineurin activity. Spatial analysis demonstrates that recycling vesicles are preferentially arranged near the active zone and this segregation is abolished by actin stabilization, slowing the rate of activity-driven exocytosis. Our approach reveals a similarly biased recycling pool distribution at synapses in visual cortex activated by sensory stimulation in vivo. We suggest that in small native central synapses, efficient release of a limited pool of vesicles relies on their favored spatial positioning within the terminal.
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