Neurons that form ribbon-style synapses are specialized for continuous exocytosis. To this end, their synaptic terminals contain numerous synaptic vesicles, some of which are ribbon associated, that have difference susceptibilities for undergoing Ca2+-dependent exocytosis. In this study, we probed the relationship between previously defined vesicle populations and determined their fusion competency with respect to SNARE complex formation. We found that both the rapidly releasing vesicle pool and the releasable vesicle pool of the retinal bipolar cell are situated at the ribbon-style active zones, where they functionally interact. A peptide inhibitor of SNARE complex formation failed to block exocytosis from either pool, suggesting that these two vesicle pools have formed the SNARE complexes necessary for fusion. By contrast, a third, slower component of exocytosis was blocked by the peptide, as was the functional replenishment of vesicle pools, indicating that few vesicles outside of the ribbon-style active zones were initially fusion competent. In cone photoreceptors, similar to bipolar cells, fusion of the initial ribbon-associated synaptic vesicle cohort was not blocked by the SNARE complex-inhibiting peptide, whereas a later phase of exocytosis, attributable to the recruitment and subsequent fusion of vesicles newly arrived at the synaptic ribbons, was blocked. Together, our results support a model in which stimulus-evoked exocytosis in retinal ribbon synapses is SNARE-dependent; where vesicles higher up on the synaptic ribbon replenish the rapidly releasing vesicle pool; and at any given time, there are sufficient SNARE complexes to support the fusion of the entire ribbon-associated cohort of vesicles. An important implication of these results is that ribbon-associated vesicles can form intervesicular SNARE complexes, providing mechanistic insight into compound fusion at ribbon-style synapses.
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