Intrinsic quantal variability due to stochastic properties of receptor-transmitter interactions

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Science  27 Nov 1992:
Vol. 258, Issue 5087, pp. 1494-1498
DOI: 10.1126/science.1279813


Synaptic events at the neuromuscular junction are integer multiples of a quantum, the postsynaptic response to transmitter released from one presynaptic vesicle. At central synapses where quanta are small, it has been suggested they are invariant due to occupation of all postsynaptic receptors, a concept neglecting inherent fluctuations in channel behavior. If this did occur, the quantal release model would not apply there and could not be used to localize sites of synaptic modification. Monte Carlo simulations of quanta include transmitter diffusion and interactions with postsynaptic receptors that are treated probabilistically. These models suggest that when there are few postsynaptic channels available at a synapse, their stochastic behavior produces significant intrinsic variance in response amplitude and kinetics, and saturation does not occur. These results were confirmed by analysis of inhibitory quanta in embryonic and adult Mauthner cells involving a small and large number of channels, respectively. The findings apply to excitatory synapses as well.

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