Morphometric characterization of the neuromuscular junction of rodents intoxicated with 2,4-dithiobiuret: Evidence that nerve terminal recycling processes contribute to muscle weakness
2,4-Dithiobiuret (DTB) causes ascending motor weakness when given chronically to rodents. In muscles of animals with DTB-induced weakness, quantal release of acetylcholine (ACh) is impaired. We examined in detail the structural changes that occurred at neuromuscular junctions and their associated Schwann cells of extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscles of male rats treated with DTB to the onset of muscle weakness, 5-8 days. Our objective was to assess the involvement of the Schwann cells and to determine the most likely primary targets of DTB. At the onset of muscle weakness, nerve terminals exhibited some enlarged regions, but did not sprout. Terminal Schwann cells became flatter and expanded to cover most of the endplate. The extent of invasion of the synaptic cleft by Schwann cell processes was not significantly different from controls; extension of Schwann cell sprouts away from the junction was not seen. Thus, the morphology of the Schwann cells, although clearly affected by DTB, does not suggest that they contribute directly to the physiological defects of DTB-treated terminals. Abnormal tubulovesicular structures or tangles of neurofilaments were clustered in the centers of about 25% of treated terminals. Fewer synaptic vesicles occupied the region opposite the postsynaptic folds. Vesicle volumes were variable and included some very large vesicles, corresponding with the variable MEPP amplitudes reported previously for terminals of DTB-treated rodents. The postsynaptic area stained by rhodamine-labeled alpha-bungarotoxin expanded with terminal swelling, apparently by unpleating of the postsynaptic folds. No loss of ACh receptors or spread of ACh receptors beyond terminal boundaries was detected. Morphometric data are consistent with the conclusion that DTB affects, either directly or indirectly, vesicular release of ACh and the subsequent vesicular recycling process.