Structural basis and biophysical properties of synaptic plasticity studied by atomic force microscopy
In this thesis, we studied two systems important for synaptic plasticity, one presynaptic and another postsynaptic. The protein complex composed of VAMP 2, SNAP-25 and syntaxin 1 (SNARE complex) is essential for docking and fusion of neurotransmitter-filled synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic membrane. In order to better understand the fusion mechanisms, we reconstituted the synaptic SNARE complex in the imaging chamber of an atomic force microscope (AFM) and measured the interaction forces between its components. Each protein was tested against the two others, taken either individually or as binary complexes. This approach allowed us to determine specific interaction forces, dissociation kinetics of the SNAREs and led us to propose a sequence of formation for the complex. A theoretical model based on our measurements suggests that a minimum of four complexes is probably necessary for fusion to occur. We also showed that the regulatory protein nSec1 injected into the AFM chamber prevented the SNARE complex formation. Finally we measured the effect of tetanus toxin protease (TeTx) on the SNARE complex and its activity by on-line registration during TeTx injection. These experiments reveal that AFM is a valuable tool to investigate complicate interactions among a protein complex containing up to four components. Trafficking of glutamate receptors AMPA is closely related to postsynaptic induction of long-term potentiation. In a second part of this thesis, we used AFM to explore the distribution of AMPA receptors on-line at the surface of living cells in correlation with cellular viscoelastic properties. First, we showed that AFM permits to detect specifically AMPA receptors at the surface of living neurons and we proved that the specificity of detection is stable during time. Moreover, we were able to visualize variations in AMPA receptor density on surface in response to different stimulations. Finally, AFM also allowed us to study local viscoelastic properties of the cell and their modifications occurring during AMPA receptor trafficking. Our measurements reveal that AMPA receptors are situated at the cell surface on local stiffness maxima. We have noticed that an excitatory stimulation removes these stiffness maxima before producing internalization of receptors. Our results suggest also that AMPA receptors may be constituted of two subpopulations depending on the cell stiffness. A "hard" subpopulation may be preferentially internalized after an excitatory stimulation whereas a "soft" one seems to remain at the cell surface.