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Exocytosis of transmitter at most synapses is a very fast process triggered by the entry of Ca2+ during an action potential. A reasonable expectation is that the fast step of exocytosis is followed by slow steps readying another vesicle for exocytosis but the identity and kinetics of these steps are presently unclear. By voltage clamping both pre- and postsynaptic neurons in an isolated pair of retinal amacrine cells, we have measured evoked synaptic currents and responses to single vesicles of transmitter (minis). From these currents, we have computed the rate of exocytosis during a sustained presynaptic depolarization. We show here that for these cells, release is consistent with a scheme of 'fire and reload.' Large Ca2+ influx causes the rapid release of a small number of vesicles, typically ≃10 per presynaptic neuron, likely corresponding to those vesicles already docked. After this spike of exocytosis whose peak is 150 quanta per release site per s, continued Ca2+ influx sustains release at only 22 quanta per release site per s, probably rate-limited by the docking of fresh vesicles.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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