Theses Doctoral

Development and Application of pH-sensitive Fluorescent Probes to Study Synaptic Activity in the Brain

Dunn, Matthew R.

This thesis describes efforts at the interface of chemistry and neuroscience to design and characterize fluorescent probes capable of tracing neurotransmitters from individual release sites in brain tissue. As part of the Fluorescent False Neurotransmitters (FFNs) program, small organic fluorophores have been developed that undergo uptake into specific presynaptic release sites and synaptic vesicles by utilizing the native protein machinery, which can then be released during neuronal firing. The most advanced generation of FFNs are pH-sensitive, and display an increase in fluorescence when released from the acidic vesicular lumen into the extracellular space, called a “FFN Flash.” In Chapter 2, the utility of the dopamine-selective and pH-sensitive functionality of FFN102 to study the mechanisms that regulate changes in pre-synaptic plasticity, a critical component of neurotransmission was explored. This included using the FFN flash to quantitatively trace dopamine release, changes in the release probability of individual release sites, and changes in vesicular loading that can affect quantal size.
The second goal of this thesis research, as detailed in Chapters 3 and 4, sought to expand the substrate scope of the FFN program to neurotransmitter systems other than dopamine. Described in Chapter 3, is the identification of a fluorescent phenylpyridinium, APP+, with excellent labeling for dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin neurons, however, the properties of the probe were found to be ill-suited for measuring neurotransmitter release. As a result, it was concluded that this class of compounds was not suitable for generating viable FFN leads. In contrast, Chapter 4 highlights the design, synthesis, and screening towards generating the novel noradrenergic-specific FFN, FFN270. This probe was further tested for application in acute murine brain slices where it labeled noradrenergic neurons, and was demonstrated to release upon stimulation. This chapter also describes the application of this compound in a series of in vivo experiments, where the ability to measure norepinephrine release from individual release sites was demonstrated in a living animal for the first time. This work opens the possibility for many exciting future FFN experiments studying the presynaptic regulation of neurotransmission in vivo.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sames, Dalibor
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 26, 2015