The proper function of synapses relies on efficient recycling of synaptic vesicles. The small size of synaptic boutons has hampered efforts to define the dynamical states of vesicles during recycling. Moreover, whether vesicle motion during recycling is regulated by neural activity remains largely unknown. We combined nanoscale-resolution tracking of individual synaptic vesicles in cultured hippocampal neurons from rats of both sexes with advanced motion analyses to demonstrate that the majority of recently endocytosed vesicles undergo sequences of transient dynamical states including epochs of directed, diffusional, and stalled motion. We observed that vesicle motion is modulated in an activity-dependent manner, with dynamical changes apparent in ~20% of observed boutons. Within this subpopulation of boutons, 35% of observed vesicles exhibited acceleration and 65% exhibited deceleration, accompanied by corresponding changes in directed motion. Individual vesicles observed in the remaining ~80% of boutons did not exhibit apparent dynamical changes in response to stimulation. More quantitative transient motion analyses revealed that the overall reduction of vesicle mobility, and specifically of the directed motion component, is the predominant activity-evoked change across the entire bouton population. Activity-dependent modulation of vesicle mobility may represent an important mechanism controlling vesicle availability and neurotransmitter release.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10597-10610
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Activity-dependence
  • Presynaptic function
  • Single-particle tracking
  • Synaptic vesicle
  • Vesicle recycling


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