Visualizing presynaptic function

Nat Neurosci. 2014 Jan;17(1):10-6. doi: 10.1038/nn.3578. Epub 2013 Dec 26.


Synaptic communication in the nervous system is initiated by the fusion of synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic plasma membrane and subsequent neurotransmitter release. In the 1980s, this process was characterized by electron microscopy, albeit without the ability to follow processes in living cells. In the last two decades, fluorescence imaging methods have been developed that report synaptic vesicle fusion, endocytosis and recycling. These probes have provided unprecedented insight into synaptic vesicle trafficking in individual synaptic terminals and revealed heterogeneity in recycling pathways as well as synaptic vesicle populations. These methods either take advantage of uptake of fluorescent probes into recycling vesicles or exogenous expression of synaptic vesicle proteins tagged with a pH-sensitive fluorescent marker at regions facing the vesicle lumen. We provide an overview of these methods, with particular emphasis on the challenges associated with their use and the opportunities for future investigations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure*
  • Protein Transport / physiology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism*