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FM Dye Cycling at the Synapse: Comparing High Potassium Depolarization, Electrical and Channelrhodopsin Stimulation


Kopke DL , Broadie K . Journal of Visualized Experiments. 2018 5 24; ().


FM dyes are used to study the synaptic vesicle (SV) cycle. These amphipathic probes have a hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail, making them water-soluble with the ability to reversibly enter and exit membrane lipid bilayers. These styryl dyes are relatively non-fluorescent in aqueous medium, but insertion into the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane causes a >40X increase in fluorescence. In neuronal synapses, FM dyes are internalized during SV endocytosis, trafficked both within and between SV pools, and released with SV exocytosis, providing a powerful tool to visualize presynaptic stages of neurotransmission. A primary genetic model of glutamatergic synapse development and function is the Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ), where FM dye imaging has been used extensively to quantify SV dynamics in a wide range of mutant conditions. The NMJ synaptic terminal is easily accessible, with a beautiful array of large synaptic boutons ideal for imaging applications. Here, we compare and contrast the three ways to stimulate the Drosophila NMJ to drive activity-dependent FM1-43 dye uptake/release: 1) bath application of high [K+] to depolarize neuromuscular tissues, 2) suction electrode motor nerve stimulation to depolarize the presynaptic nerve terminal, and 3) targeted transgenic expression of channelrhodopsin variants for light-stimulated, spatial control of depolarization. Each of these methods has benefits and disadvantages for the study of genetic mutation effects on the SV cycle at the Drosophila NMJ. We will discuss these advantages and disadvantages to assist the selection of the stimulation approach, together with the methodologies specific to each strategy. In addition to fluorescent imaging, FM dyes can be photoconverted to electron-dense signals visualized using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to study SV cycle mechanisms at an ultrastructural level. We provide the comparisons of confocal and electron microscopy imaging from the different methods of Drosophila NMJ stimulation, to help guide the selection of future experimental paradigms.