When neurons swell and shrink they extensively reorganize their plasma membrane. A striking aspect of these membrane dynamics is the transient appearance of vacuole-like dilations (VLDs) which, counterintuitively, expand as the neurons shrink. Here, confocal microscopy of cultured molluscan (Lymnaea) neurons was used in conjunction with aqueous phase and membrane dyes to examine changing VLD membrane topology as VLDs form, reverse or recover. We show that VLDs start as discrete invaginations at the adherent surface, so VLD and plasma membranes are initially contiguous. Over the next few minutes VLDs expand and penetrate the cytoplasm. At the substratum, the mouths of VLDs develop into irregular annuli of motile adherent processes whereas deeper in the cytoplasm, VLD membrane profiles are smooth. Subsequently VLDs spontaneously shrink; as this recovery proceeds, constriction of the motile VLD mouth leads to the internalization of plasma membrane. Washout experiments with aqueous phase dyes demonstrated that VLD constriction yields bona fide vacuoles, i.e., membrane-bound compartments isolated from the external medium. VLDs can also be experimentally eliminated by returning cells to swelling conditions; this reversal process drives membrane back to the surface.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 1, 1998
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