Synaptic diversity and differentiation: Crustacean neuromuscular junctions

H. L. Atwood, R. L. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Crustacean motor neurons exhibit a wide range of synaptic responses. Tonically active neurons generally produce small excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) at low impulse frequencies, and are able to release much more transmitter as the impulse frequency increases. Phasic neurons typically generate large EPSPs in their target cells, but have less capability for frequency facilitation, and undergo synaptic depression during maintained activity. These differences depend in part upon the neuron's ongoing levels of activity; phasic neurons acquire physiological and morphological features of tonic neurons when their activity level is altered. Molecules responsible for adaptation to activity can be sought in single identified phasic neurons with current techniques. The fact that both phasic and tonic neurons innervate the same target muscle fibers is evidence for presynaptic determination of synaptic properties, but there is also evidence for postsynaptic determination of specific properties of different endings of a single neuron. The occurrence of high- and low-output endings of the same tonic motor neurons on different muscle fibers suggests a target-specific influence on synaptic properties. Structural variation of synapses on individual terminal varicosities leads to the hypothesis that individual synapses have different probabilities for release of transmitter. We hypothesize that structurally complex synapses have a higher probability for release than the less complex synapses. This provides an explanation for the larger quantal contents of 'high-output' terminals (where the proportion of complex synapses is higher), and also a mechanism for progressive recruitment of synapses during frequency facilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-307
Number of pages17
JournalInvertebrate Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1996


  • Adaptation
  • Crustacean
  • Plasticity
  • Presynaptic
  • Synapse
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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