Dense-core vesicles (DCVs) are regulated secretory organelles found in many types of neurons. In neurons of the hippocampus, their cargo includes proteins that mediate several pivotal processes, including differentiation and synaptic plasticity. Motivated by interest in DCV distribution and its impact on cargo action, we have used fluorescence microscopy and statistical analysis to develop a quantitative model of the subcellular organization of DCVs in hippocampal neurons that are spontaneously active (their most prevalent state). We also have tested the functionally motivated hypothesis that these organelles are synaptically enriched. Variance-to-mean ratio, frequency distribution, and Moran's autocorrelation analyses reveal that DCV distribution along shafts, and within synapses, follows Poisson statistics, establishing that stochastically dictated organization sustains cargo function. Occupancy in boutons exceeds that at nearby extrasynaptic axonal sites by approximately threefold, revealing significant local presynaptic enrichment. Widespread stochastic organization is consistent with the emerging functional importance of synaptically and extrasynaptically localized DCVs. Presynaptic enrichment is consistent with the established importance of protecting presynaptic sites from depletion of DCV cargo. These results enhance understanding of the link between DCV organization and mechanisms of cargo action, and they reinforce the emerging theme that randomness is a prevalent aspect of synaptic organization and composition.
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