Along unmyelinated central axons, synapses occur at focal swellings called axonal varicosities (boutons). The mechanisms regulating how frequently synapses and varicosities occur along axons remain poorly understood. Here, to investigate varicosity distribution patterns and the extent to which they may be conserved across different axons, we analyzed varicosity numbers and positions along fluorescently labeled axon branches in hippocampal area CA1 (CA3-to-CA1 "Schaffer collateral" axons) and five other synaptic regions of rat hippocampus and cerebellum. Varicosity spacing varied by region; e.g., 3.7 ± 0.6 μm (mean ± SD) for CA3-to-CA1 axons and 5.2 ± 1.0 μm for cerebellar parallel fibers. Surprisingly, when 56 axons from these different regions were pooled into a single heterogeneous group, a general relationship emerged: the spacing variability (SD) was a constant fraction of the mean spacing, suggesting that varicosities along different axons are distributed in a fundamentally similar, scaled manner. Varicosity spacing was neither regular nor random but followed a pattern consistent with random synaptic distributions and the occurrence of multiple-synapse boutons. A quantitative model reproduced the salient features of the data and distinguished between two proposed mechanisms relating axonal morphogenesis and synaptogenesis.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Apr 30 2002|
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