Mesophasic organization of GABAA receptors in hippocampal inhibitory synapses

Information processing in the brain depends on specialized organization of neurotransmitter receptors and scaffolding proteins within the postsynaptic density. However, how these molecules are organized in situ remains largely unknown. In this study, template-free classification of oversampled sub-tomograms was used to analyze cryo-electron tomograms of hippocampal synapses. We identified type-A GABA receptors (GABAARs) in inhibitory synapses and determined their in situ structure at 19-Å resolution. These receptors are organized hierarchically: from GABAAR super-complexes with a preferred inter-receptor distance of 11 nm but variable relative angles, through semi-ordered, two-dimensional receptor networks with reduced Voronoi entropy, to mesophasic assembly with a sharp phase boundary. These assemblies likely form via interactions among postsynaptic scaffolding proteins and receptors and align with putative presynaptic vesicle release sites. Such mesophasic self-organization might allow synapses to achieve a ‘Goldilocks’ state, striking a balance between stability and flexibility and enabling plasticity in information processing.
Funding Information
  • China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2018M640590)
  • Natural Science Foundation of Anhui Province (1908085QC95)
  • National Natural Science Foundation of China (31600606, 31630030, 31621002, 31761163006)
  • National Key R&D Program of China
  • Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province
  • Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (GM071940, S10RR23057)
  • National Science Foundation (DMR-1548924, DBI-13381)
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB32030200)
  • The National Key R&D Program of China

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