The chemical synapse is a complex machine separated into three parts: presynaptic, postsynaptic, and cleft. Super-resolution light microscopy has revealed alignment of presynaptic vesicle release machinery and postsynaptic neurotransmitter-receptors and scaffolding components in synapse spanning nanocolumns. Cryo-electron tomography confirmed that postsynaptic glutamate receptor-like structures align with presynaptic structures in proximity to synaptic vesicles into transsynaptic assemblies. In our electron tomographic renderings, nearly all transcleft structures visibly connect to intracellular structures through transmembrane structures to form transsynaptic assemblies, potentially providing a structural basis for transsynaptic alignment. Here, we describe the patterns of composition, distribution, and interactions of all assemblies spanning the synapse by producing three-dimensional renderings of all visibly connected structures in excitatory and inhibitory synapses in dissociated rat hippocampal neuronal cultures of both sexes prepared by high-pressure freezing and freeze-substitution. The majority of transcleft structures connect to material in both presynaptic and postsynaptic compartments. We found several instances of assemblies connecting to both synaptic vesicles and postsynaptic density scaffolding. Each excitatory synaptic vesicle within 30 nm of the active zone contacts one or more assembly. Further, intracellular structures were often shared between assemblies, entangling them to form larger complexes or association domains, often in small clusters of vesicles. Our findings suggest that transsynaptic assemblies physically connect the three compartments, allow for coordinated molecular organization, and may combine to form specialized functional association domains, resembling the light-level nanocolumns.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT A recent tomographic study uncovered that receptor-like cleft structures align across the synapse. These aligned structures were designated as transsynaptic assemblies and demonstrate the coordinated organization of synaptic transmission molecules between compartments. Our present tomographic study expands on the definition of transsynaptic assemblies by analyzing the three-dimensional distribution and connectivity of all cleft-spanning structures and their connected intracellular structures. While one-to-one component alignment occurs across the synapse, we find that many assemblies share components, leading to a complex entanglement of assemblies, typically around clusters of synaptic vesicles. Transsynaptic assemblies appear to form domains which may be the structural basis for alignment of molecular nanodomains into synapse spanning nanocolumns described by super-resolution light microscopy.

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This post is Copyright: Cole, A. A., Reese, T. S. | August 17, 2023
Journal of Neuroscience current issue