Dual-color STED microscopy reveals a sandwich structure of Bassoon and Piccolo in active zones of adult and aged mice

Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 20;6:27935. doi: 10.1038/srep27935.


Presynaptic active zones play a pivotal role as synaptic vesicle release sites for synaptic transmission, but the molecular architecture of active zones in mammalian neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) at sub-diffraction limited resolution remains unknown. Bassoon and Piccolo are active zone specific cytosolic proteins essential for active zone assembly in NMJs, ribbon synapses, and brain synapses. These proteins are thought to colocalize and share some functions at active zones. Here, we report an unexpected finding of non-overlapping localization of these two proteins in mouse NMJs revealed using dual-color stimulated emission depletion (STED) super resolution microscopy. Piccolo puncta sandwiched Bassoon puncta and aligned in a Piccolo-Bassoon-Piccolo structure in adult NMJs. P/Q-type voltage-gated calcium channel (VGCC) puncta colocalized with Bassoon puncta. The P/Q-type VGCC and Bassoon protein levels decreased significantly in NMJs from aged mouse. In contrast, the Piccolo levels in NMJs from aged mice were comparable to levels in adult mice. This study revealed the molecular architecture of active zones in mouse NMJs at sub-diffraction limited resolution, and described the selective degeneration mechanism of active zone proteins in NMJs from aged mice. Interestingly, the localization pattern of active zone proteins described herein is similar to active zone structures described using electron microscope tomography.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism*
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Nonlinear Optical Microscopy / methods
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism*


  • Bsn protein, mouse
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Pclo protein, mouse