Cellular and Molecular Anatomy of the Human Neuromuscular Junction

Cell Rep. 2017 Nov 28;21(9):2348-2356. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.11.008.


The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) plays a fundamental role in transferring information from lower motor neuron to skeletal muscle to generate movement. It is also an experimentally accessible model synapse routinely studied in animal models to explore fundamental aspects of synaptic form and function. Here, we combined morphological techniques, super-resolution imaging, and proteomic profiling to reveal the detailed cellular and molecular architecture of the human NMJ. Human NMJs were significantly smaller, less complex, and more fragmented than mouse NMJs. In contrast to mice, human NMJs were also remarkably stable across the entire adult lifespan, showing no signs of age-related degeneration or remodeling. Super-resolution imaging and proteomic profiling revealed distinctive distribution of active zone proteins and differential expression of core synaptic proteins and molecular pathways at the human NMJ. Taken together, these findings reveal human-specific cellular and molecular features of the NMJ that distinguish them from comparable synapses in other mammalian species.

Keywords: active zone; aging; comparative anatomy; human; mouse; nervous system; neuromuscular junction; proteomics; super-resolution imaging; synapse.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Nervous System / metabolism
  • Neuromuscular Junction / anatomy & histology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / cytology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Proteomics
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology