• long-term potentiation;
  • postsynaptic density;
  • synaptic vesicles;
  • synaptic plasticity;
  • serial section electron microscopy;
  • reconstruction;
  • RRID:AB_2113447;
  • RRID:AB_1769134;
  • RRID:nif-0000–31686;
  • RRID:nif-0000–23420


Nascent zones and active zones are adjacent synaptic regions that share a postsynaptic density, but nascent zones lack the presynaptic vesicles found at active zones. Here dendritic spine synapses were reconstructed through serial section electron microscopy (3DEM) and EM tomography to investigate nascent zone dynamics during long-term potentiation (LTP) in mature rat hippocampus. LTP was induced with theta-burst stimulation, and comparisons were made with control stimulation in the same hippocampal slices at 5 minutes, 30 minutes, and 2 hours post-induction and to perfusion-fixed hippocampus in vivo. Nascent zones were present at the edges of ∼35% of synapses in perfusion-fixed hippocampus and as many as ∼50% of synapses in some hippocampal slice conditions. By 5 minutes, small dense-core vesicles known to transport active zone proteins moved into more presynaptic boutons. By 30 minutes, nascent zone area decreased, without significant change in synapse area, suggesting that presynaptic vesicles were recruited to preexisting nascent zones. By 2 hours, both nascent and active zones were enlarged. Immunogold labeling revealed glutamate receptors in nascent zones; however, average distances from nascent zones to docked presynaptic vesicles ranged from 170 ± 5 nm in perfusion-fixed hippocampus to 251 ± 4 nm at enlarged synapses by 2 hours during LTP. Prior stochastic modeling suggests that decrease in glutamate concentration reduces the probability of glutamate receptor activation from 0.4 at the center of release to 0.1 just 200 nm away. Thus, conversion of nascent zones to functional active zones likely requires the recruitment of presynaptic vesicles during LTP. J. Comp. Neurol. 522:3861–3884, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.