We hypothesize that the morphology of the neuromuscular junction on different muscle fibre types varies, reflecting differences in activation history. In the rat diaphragm muscle, we used a three-colour fluorescent immunocytochemical technique to simultaneously visualize (1) innervating axons and presynaptic nerve terminals, (2) motor endplates, and (3) myosin heavy chain isoform expression (muscle fibre type). Laser-scanning confocal microscopy was then used to optically section the triple-labelled muscle fibres, and create three-dimensional views of the neuromuscular junction. Type I fibres were innervated by the smallest axons, and type IIa, IIx and IIb fibres by progressively larger axons. Absolute planar areas of nerve terminals and endplates progressively increased from type I, IIa, IIx to IIb fibres. When normalized for fibre diameter, planar areas of nerve terminals were largest on type I fibres, with no difference among type II fibres. The normalized planar area of endplates were larger for type I and IIb fibres, compared to type IIa and IIx fibres. The three-dimensional surface area of endplates was largest on type I fibres, with no differences across type II fibres. When normalized for fibre diameter, endplate surface areas increased progressively from type I, IIa, IIx to IIb fibres. The branching patterns of both nerve terminals and endplates varied across fibre types. The number of nerve terminal and endplate branches increased progressively from type I, IIa, IIx to IIb fibres. Conversely, individual branch length was longest on type I fibres, and shortest on type IIb fibres. The extent of overlap of pre- and postsynaptic elements of the neuromuscular junction decreased progressively on type I, IIa, IIx and IIb fibres. We conclude that these morphological differences at the neuromuscular function of different fibre types reflect differences in activation history and may underlie phenotypic differences in neuromuscular transmission.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology