An important issue in synaptic physiology is the extent to which postsynaptic receptors are saturated by the neurotransmitter released from a single synaptic vesicle. Although the bulk of evidence supports receptor saturation, recent studies have started to reveal that α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) and N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors may not be saturated by a single vesicle of glutamate. Here, we address this question through a study of putative single synapses, made by hippocampal neurons in culture, that are identified by FM1–43 staining. An analysis of the sources of variability in the amplitudes of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents at single synapses reveals that this variability must arise presynaptically, from variations in the quantity of agonist released. Thus, glutamate receptors at hippocampal synapses are not generally saturated by quantal release
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