The Journal of experimental biology

Targeting a neuropeptide to discrete regions of the motor arborizations of a single neuron.

PMID 22623199


The heart excitor (HE) motor neuron in the leech Hirudo releases acetylcholine (ACh) and a peptide, FMRFamide, to regulate the contractile activity of the heart tube and associated side vessels. Consistent with Dale's principle, it was assumed that both neurotransmitters were localized to all presynaptic varicosities. However, we found discrete peptide-positive and peptide-negative varicosities associated with particular sites of innervation on the heart tube. We produced dual-labeled HE neurons by pressure injecting Neurobiotin into single HE cell bodies and applied anti-FMRFamide antibodies on the same preparations. Consistent with initial expectations, peptide-labeled varicosities were numerous and widely distributed along the heart tube and at one of the three side vessels, the latero-abdominal vessel. Nevertheless, some Neurobiotin-labeled varicosities along the heart tube lacked peptide label entirely. Moreover, there were dense and distinct peptide-negative innervations at the valve junctions of the latero-dorsal and latero-lateral vessels at each segment. Nevertheless, the peptide label was found in HE axons and varicosities that projected distally along the side vessels. Therefore, the more proximal peptide-negative clusters cannot simply be the result of restricted transport or deficient staining of peptide. Rather, we infer that FMRFamide is transported to (or selectively excluded from) discrete locations and that ACh is present in varicosities that lacked peptide. Such targeting of neurotransmitters could be described using a discrete targeting model of synaptic transmission. Compared with Dale's principle, this model may provide a more complete perspective of chemical communication than previously understood.