Research Article

Rapid and Reversible Effects of Activity on Acetylcholine Receptor Density at the Neuromuscular Junction in Vivo

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Science  15 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5439, pp. 503-507
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5439.503

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Quantitative fluorescence imaging was used to study the regulation of acetylcholine receptor (AChR) number and density at neuromuscular junctions in living adult mice. At fully functional synapses, AChRs have a half-life of about 14 days. However, 2 hours after neurotransmission was blocked, the half-life of the AChRs was now less than a day; the rate was 25 times faster than before. Most of the lost receptors were not quickly replaced. Direct muscle stimulation or restoration of synaptic transmission inhibited this process. AChRs that were removed from nonfunctional synapses resided for hours in the perijunctional membrane before being locally internalized. Dispersed AChRs could also reaggregate at the junction once neurotransmission was restored. The rapid and reversible alterations in AChR density at the neuromuscular junction in vivo parallel changes thought to occur in the central nervous system at synapses undergoing potentiation and depression.

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