Gangliosides are a family of sialylated glycosphingolipids enriched in the outer leaflet of neuronal membranes, in particular at synapses. Therefore, they have been hypothesized to play a functional role in synaptic transmission. We have measured in detail the electrophysiological parameters of synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) ex vivo of a GD3-synthase knockout mouse, expressing only the O- and a-series gangliosides, as well as of a GM2/GD2-synthase*GD3-synthase double-knockout (dKO) mouse, lacking all gangliosides except GM3. No major synaptic deficits were found in either null-mutant. However, some extra degree of rundown of acetylcholine release at high intensity use was present at the dKO NMJ and a temperature-specific increase in acetylcholine release at 35 °C was observed in GD3-synthase knockout NMJs, compared with wild-type. These results indicate that synaptic transmission at the NMJ is not crucially dependent on the particular presence of most ganglioside family members and remains largely intact in the sole presence of GM3 ganglioside. Rather, presynaptic gangliosides appear to play a modulating role in temperature- and use-dependent fine-tuning of transmitter output.

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Keywords acetylcholine release, ganglioside, gene knockout, neuromuscular junction, synaptic transmission
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Journal Neuroscience
Zitman, F.M.P, Todorov, B, Jacobs, B.C, Verschuuren, J.J, Furukawa, K, Willison, H.J, & Plomp, J.J. (2008). Neuromuscular synaptic function in mice lacking major subsets of gangliosides. Neuroscience, 156(4), 885–897. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.08.034