Microtubule and Actin Differentially Regulate Synaptic Vesicle Cycling to Maintain High-Frequency Neurotransmission

J Neurosci. 2020 Jan 2;40(1):131-142. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1571-19.2019. Epub 2019 Nov 25.


Cytoskeletal filaments such as microtubules (MTs) and filamentous actin (F-actin) dynamically support cell structure and functions. In central presynaptic terminals, F-actin is expressed along the release edge and reportedly plays diverse functional roles, but whether axonal MTs extend deep into terminals and play any physiological role remains controversial. At the calyx of Held in rats of either sex, confocal and high-resolution microscopy revealed that MTs enter deep into presynaptic terminal swellings and partially colocalize with a subset of synaptic vesicles (SVs). Electrophysiological analysis demonstrated that depolymerization of MTs specifically prolonged the slow-recovery time component of EPSCs from short-term depression induced by a train of high-frequency stimulation, whereas depolymerization of F-actin specifically prolonged the fast-recovery component. In simultaneous presynaptic and postsynaptic action potential recordings, depolymerization of MTs or F-actin significantly impaired the fidelity of high-frequency neurotransmission. We conclude that MTs and F-actin differentially contribute to slow and fast SV replenishment, thereby maintaining high-frequency neurotransmission.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The presence and functional role of MTs in the presynaptic terminal are controversial. Here, we demonstrate that MTs are present near SVs in calyceal presynaptic terminals and that MT depolymerization specifically prolongs the slow-recovery component of EPSCs from short-term depression. In contrast, F-actin depolymerization specifically prolongs fast-recovery component. Depolymerization of MT or F-actin has no direct effect on SV exocytosis/endocytosis or basal transmission, but significantly impairs the fidelity of high-frequency transmission, suggesting that presynaptic cytoskeletal filaments play essential roles in SV replenishment for the maintenance of high-frequency neurotransmission.

Keywords: F-actin; microtubules; neurotransmission; short-term depression; synaptic vesicles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Actins / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology*
  • Thiazolidines / pharmacology
  • Trapezoid Body / physiology
  • Vinblastine / pharmacology


  • Actins
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Thiazolidines
  • Vinblastine
  • latrunculin A