Presynaptic boutons at nerve terminals are densely packed with synaptic vesicles, specialized organelles for rapid and regulated neurotransmitter secretion. Upon depolarization of the nerve terminal, synaptic vesicles fuse at specializations called active zones that are localized at discrete compartments in the plasma membrane to initiate synaptic transmission. A small proportion of synaptic vesicles are docked and primed for immediate fusion upon synaptic stimulation, which together comprise the readily releasable pool. The size of the readily releasable pool is an important property of synapses, which influences release probability and can dynamically change during various forms of plasticity. Here we describe a detailed protocol for estimating the readily releasable pool at a model glutamatergic synapse, the Drosophila neuromuscular junction. This synapse is experimentally robust and amenable to sophisticated genetic, imaging, electrophysiological, and pharmacological approaches. We detail the experimental design, electrophysiological recording procedure, and quantitative analysis necessary to determine the readily releasable pool size. This technique requires the use of a two-electrode voltage-clamp recording configuration in elevated external Ca2+ with high frequency stimulation. We have used this assay to measure the readily releasable pool size and reveal that a form of homeostatic plasticity modulates this pool with synapse-specific and compartmentalized precision. This powerful approach can be utilized to illuminate the dynamics of synaptic vesicle trafficking and plasticity and determine how synaptic function adapts and deteriorates during states of altered development, stress and neuromuscular disease.
Keywords: Drosophila; Neuromuscular junction; Readily releasable pool; Synaptic vesicle pool; Two-electrode voltage clamp.