March 3, 2021

Properties of multi-vesicular release from rod photoreceptors support transmission of single photon responses

Vision under starlight requires rod photoreceptors to transduce and transmit single photon responses to the visual system. This remarkable sensitivity depends on a small voltage change reliably reducing glutamate release such that post-synaptic rod bipolar cells can robustly detect the signal. To transmit this small signal, we have found that rod vesicle release deviates strongly from a Poisson process under conditions that mimic darkness. Specifically, at their resting membrane potential in darkness, rods exhibit coordinated and regularly timed multivesicular release events. Each release event consisted of ~17 vesicles and occurred 2-3 times more regularly than expected from a Poisson process. Hyperpolarizing rods to mimic the voltage change produced by a single photon response abruptly reduced the probability of multivesicular release nearly to zero with a rebound increase in release probability at stimulus offset. Simulations of these release dynamics indicate that this regularly timed, multivesicular release promotes transmission of single photon responses to post-synaptic neurons. Furthermore, the mechanism is efficient, requiring fewer vesicles to be released per second than uniquantal release governed by Poisson statistics.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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