PURPOSE: The purpose of this work was to test whether palisade endings express structural and molecular features of exocytotic machinery, and are associated with acetylcholine receptors, and enzymes for neurotransmitter breakdown.
METHODS: Extraocular rectus muscles from six cats were studied. Whole-mount preparations of extraocular muscles (EOMs) were immunolabeled with markers for exocytotic proteins, including synaptosomal-associated protein of 25 kDa (SNAP25), syntaxin, synaptobrevin, synaptotagmin, and complexin. Acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) were visualized with α-bungarotoxin and with an antibody against AChRs, and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) was tagged with anti-AChE. Molecular features of multicolor labeled palisade endings were analyzed in the confocal scanning microscope, and their ultrastructural features were revealed in the transmission electron microscope.
RESULTS: All palisade endings expressed the exocytotic proteins SNAP25, syntaxin, synaptobrevin, synaptotagmin, and complexin. At the ultrastructural level, vesicles docked at the plasma membrane of terminal varicosities of palisade endings. No AChRs were associated with palisade endings as demonstrated by the absence of α-bungarotoxin and anti-AChR binding. AChE, the degradative enzyme for acetylcholine exhibited low, if any, activity in palisade endings. Axonal tracking showed that axons with multiple en grappe motor terminals were in continuity with palisade endings.
CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates that palisade endings exhibit structural and molecular characteristics of exocytotic machinery, suggesting neurotransmitter release. However, AChRs were not associated with palisade endings, so there is no binding site for acetylcholine, and, due to low/absent AChE activity, insufficient neurotransmitter removal. Thus, the present findings indicate that palisade endings belong to an effector system that is very different from that found in other skeletal muscles.