Quantal measurement and analysis methods compared for crayfish and Drosophila neuromuscular junctions, and rat hippocampus

R. L. Cooper, B. A. Stewart, J. M. Wojtowicz, S. Wang, H. L. Atwood

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79 Scopus citations


Quantal content of transmission was estimated for three synaptic systems (crayfish and Drosophila neuromuscular junctions, and rat dentate gyrus neurons) with three different methods of measurement: direct counts of released quanta, amplitude measurements of evoked and spontaneous events, and charge measurements of evoked and spontaneous events. At the crayfish neuromuscular junction, comparison of the three methods showed that estimates from charge measurements were closer to estimates from direct counts, since amplitude measurements were more seriously affected by variable latency in evoked release of quantal units. Thus, charge measurements are better for estimating quantal content when direct counts cannot be made, as in crayfish at high frequency of stimulation or in the dentate gyrus neurons. At the Drosophila neuromuscular junction, there is almost no latency variation of quantal release in realistic physiological solutions, and the methods based upon amplitudes and charge give similar results. Distributions of evoked synaptic quantal events obtained by direct counts at the crayfish neuromuscular junction were compared to statistical distributions obtained by best fits. Binomial distributions with uniform or non-uniform probabilities of release generally provided good fits to the observations. From best fit distributions, the quantal parameters n (number of release sites) and p (their probability of release) can be calculated. We used two algorithms to estimate n and p: one allows for non-uniform probability of release and uses a modified chi-square (χ2) criterion, and the second assumes uniform probability of release and derives parameters from maximum likelihood estimation (MLE). The bootstrap estimate of standard errors is used to determine the accuracy of n and p estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-78
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1995

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Medical Research Council of Canada (H.L.A. and J.M.W.), Network on Neural Regeneration and Functional Recovery, Canada (Fellowship to R.L.C.), and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Fellowship to B.A.!%). Marianne Hegstrom-Wojtowicz helped to prepare figures and typing. Software for off-line analysis measurements was written by Steve Jones, Medical Computing, Medical Sciences, Univ. of Toronto and by Tom Goldthorpe. Software for determining values of MLE, AIC and bootstraping analysis was provided by Dr. Bruce Smith, University of Victoria, Canada.


  • Crayfish
  • Dentate gyrus
  • Drosophila
  • Neuromuscular
  • Presynaptic
  • Quantal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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