Although many of the molecules involved in synaptogenesis have been identified, the sequence and kinetics of synapse assembly in the central nervous system (CNS) remain largely unknown. We used simultaneous time-lapse imaging of fluorescent glutamate receptor subunits and presynaptic proteins in rat cortical neurons in vitro to determine the dynamics and time course of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) recruitment to nascent synapses. We found that both NMDA and α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor (AMPAR) subunits are present in mobile transport packets in neurons before and during synaptogenesis. NMDAR transport packets are more mobile than AMPAR subunits, moving along microtubules at about 4 μm/min, and are recruited to sites of axodendritic contact within minutes. Whereas NMDAR recruitment to new synapses can be either concurrent with or independent of the protein PSD-95, AMPARs are recruited with a slower time course. Thus, glutamatergic synapses can form rapidly by the sequential delivery of modular transport packets containing glutamate receptors.
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