Synaptic dynamics at the neuromuscular junction: Mechanisms and models

David C. Van Essen, H. Gordon, J. M. Soha, S. E. Fraser

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66 Scopus citations


During development, the neuromuscular junction passes through a stage of extensive polyinnervation followed by a period of wholesale synapse elimination. In this report we discuss mechanisms and interactions that could mediate many of the key aspects of these important developmental events. Our emphasis is on (1) establishing an overall conceptual framework within which the role of many distinct cellular interactions and molecular factors can be evaluated, and (2) generating computer simulations that systematically test the adequacy of different models in accounting for a wide range of biological data. Our analysis indicates that several relatively simple mechanisms are each capable of explaining a variety of experimental observations. On the other hand, no one mechanism can account for the full spectrum of experimental results. Thus, it is important to consider models that are based on interactions among multiple mechanisms. A potentially powerful combination is one based on (1) a scaffold within the basal lamina or in the postsynaptic membrane which is induced by nerve terminals and which serves to stabilize terminals by a positive feedback mechanism; (2) a sprouting factor whose release by muscle fibers is down‐regulated by activity and perhaps other factors; and (3) an intrinsic tendency of motor neurons to withdraw some connections while allowing others to grow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-249
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990


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