A primary determinant of the strength of neurotransmission is the number of AMPA-type glutamate receptors (AMPARs) at synapses. However, we still lack a mechanistic understanding of how the number of synaptic AMPARs is regulated. Here, we show that UNC-116, the C. elegans homolog of vertebrate kinesin-1 heavy chain (KIF5), modifies synaptic strength by mediating the rapid delivery, removal, and redistribution of synaptic AMPARs. Furthermore, by studying the real-time transport of C. elegans AMPAR subunits in vivo, we demonstrate that although homomeric GLR-1 AMPARs can diffuse to and accumulate at synapses in unc-116 mutants, glutamate-gated currents are diminished because heteromeric GLR-1/GLR-2 receptors do not reach synapses in the absence of UNC-116/KIF5-mediated transport. Our data support a model in which ongoing motor-driven delivery and removal of AMPARs controls not only the number but also the composition of synaptic AMPARs, and thus the strength of synaptic transmission.
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