In the mammalian brain, the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has emerged as a key factor for synaptic refinement, plasticity and learning. Although BDNF-induced signaling cascades are well known, the spatial aspects of the synaptic BDNF localization remained unclear. Recent data provide strong evidence for an exclusive presynaptic location and anterograde secretion of endogenous BDNF at synapses of the hippocampal circuit. In contrast, various studies using BDNF overexpression in cultured hippocampal neurons support the idea that postsynaptic elements and other dendritic structures are the preferential sites of BDNF localization and release. In this study we used rigorously tested anti-BDNF antibodies and achieved a dense labeling of endogenous BDNF close to synapses. Confocal microscopy showed natural BDNF close to many, but not all glutamatergic synapses, while neither GABAergic synapses nor postsynaptic structures carried a typical synaptic BDNF label. To visualize the BDNF distribution within the fine structure of synapses, we implemented super resolution fluorescence imaging by direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM). Two-color dSTORM images of neurites were acquired with a spatial resolution of ~20 nm. At this resolution, the synaptic scaffold proteins Bassoon and Homer exhibit hallmarks of mature synapses and form juxtaposed bars, separated by a synaptic cleft. BDNF imaging signals form granule-like clusters with a mean size of ~60 nm and are preferentially found within the fine structure of the glutamatergic presynapse. Individual glutamatergic presynapses carried up to 90% of the synaptic BDNF immunoreactivity, and only a minor fraction of BDNF molecules was found close to the postsynaptic bars. Our data proof that hippocampal neurons are able to enrich and store high amounts of BDNF in small granules within the mature glutamatergic presynapse, at a principle site of synaptic plasticity.
Keywords: BDNF; hippocampal neurons; presynapse; synapse structure; synaptic localization.