Counting the Number of Glutamate Molecules in Single Synaptic Vesicles

Analytical tools for direct quantitative measurements of glutamate, the principal excitatory neurotransmitter in brain, are lacking. Here, we introduce a new enzyme-based amperometric sensor technique for direct counting of the number of glutamate molecules stored inside single synaptic vesicles. An ultra-fast enzyme-based glutamate sensor is placed into a solution of isolated synaptic vesicles, which stochastically rupture at the sensor surface in a potential dependent manner by applying a constant negative potential. High-speed (10 kHz) amperometry is used to record sub-millisecond current spikes, which represent glutamate release from single vesicles that burst open. Glutamate quantification is achieved by a calibration curve that is based on measurements of glutamate release from vesicles pre-filled with various concentrations of glutamate. Our measurements show that a single synaptic vesicle encapsulates about 8000 glutamate molecules, which is comparable to the measured exocytotic quantal glutamate release in the nucleus accumbens of mouse brain tissue. Hence, this new methodology introduces the means to quantify ultra-small amounts of glutamate and to study synaptic vesicle physiology, pathogenesis and drug treatments for neuronal disorders where glutamate is involved.