Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Ruth Heidelberger, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Janz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Beierlein, Ph.D

Committee Member

Ellen Lumpkin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Putkey, Ph.D.


Ribbon synapses are found in sensory systems and are characterized by ‘ribbon-like’ organelles that tether synaptic vesicles. The synaptic ribbons co-localize with sites of calcium entry and vesicle fusion, forming ribbon-style active zones. The ability of ribbon synapses to maintain rapid and sustained neurotransmission is critical for vision, hearing and balance. At retinal ribbon synapses, three vesicle pools have been proposed. A rapid pool of vesicles that are docked at the plasma membrane, and whose fusion is limited only by calcium entry, a releasable pool of ATP-primed vesicles whose size also correlates with the number of ribbon-tethered vesicles, and a reserve pool of non-ribbon-tethered cytoplasmic vesicles. However evidence of vesicle fusion at sites away from ribbon-style active zones questions this organization. Another fundamental question underlying the mechanism of vesicle fusion at these synapses is the role of SNARE (Soluble N-ethylmaleimide sensitive factor Attachment Protein Receptor) proteins. Vesicles at conventional neurons undergo SNARE complex-mediated fusion. However a recent study has suggested that ribbon synapses involved in hearing can operate independently of neuronal SNAREs. We used the well-characterized goldfish bipolar neuron to investigate the organization of vesicle pools and the role of SNARE proteins at a retinal ribbon synapse. We blocked functional refilling of the releasable pool and then stimulated bipolar terminals with brief depolarizations that triggered the fusion of the rapid pool of vesicles. We found that the rapid pool draws vesicles from the releasable pool and that both pools undergo release at ribbon-style active zones. To assess the functional role of SNARE proteins at retinal ribbon synapses, we used peptides derived from SNARE proteins that compete with endogenous proteins for SNARE complex formation. The SNARE peptides blocked fusion of reserve vesicles but not vesicles in the rapid and releasable pools, possibly because both rapid and releasable vesicles were associated with preformed SNARE complexes. However, an activity-dependent block in refilling of the releasable pool was seen, suggesting that new SNARE complexes must be formed before vesicles can join a fusion-competent pool. Taken together, our results suggest that SNARE complex-mediated exocytosis of serially-organized vesicle pools at ribbon-style active zones is important in the neurotransmission of vision.


exocytosis, ribbon synapse, SNARE proteins, retina



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