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Membrane Traffic at Synapses

Team Leader : David Perrais

David Perrais biosketch

The team (January 2024)

Front row, from left to right: Domitille, David, Julie

Second row: Antoine, Sarka, Silvia, Lou, Unai

Third row: Paul, Vincent, Vivek, Etienne


General objective

Vesicular trafficking is one of the most salient features of synaptic physiology. In the tiny (less than 1 µm wide) chemical synapses, presynaptic vesicles concentrate and release neurotransmitter molecules which bind to post-synaptic receptors. The exocytosis and recycling of synaptic vesicles is a very prominent and essential feature of neuronal physiology that is highly controlled in time and space. Moreover, post-synaptic membrane trafficking, although not as prominent quantitatively, is pivotal for the maintenance of signal transduction complexes supporting synaptic transmission and plasticity. Most of our knowledge about synapse physiology comes from studying glutamatergic synapses which represent the majority of synapses in the brain. Nevertheless, other types of synapses, such as neuromodulatory dopaminergic synapses, could have a very different molecular composition and operate in a different way. However, because they represent a small minority of synapses formed from a very small number of neurons, their analysis has been difficult through classical cellular and molecular methods.

Our goal in the team is to use the most advanced fluorescence imaging techniques together with refined purification of synaptic elements (synaptosomes) to address the mechanisms regulating synapse function through membrane trafficking events in normal brain physiology or in the course of disease. To achieve this goal, we use, on top of the standard techniques of the modern neuroscience lab (molecular biology, biochemistry, imaging, electrophysiology), two unique expertise developed by the two PIs: first, with David Perrais, we develop methods to detect individual exocytosis and endocytosis events with pH sensitive fluorophores and perform quantitative imaging. Second, with Etienne Herzog, we purify synaptosomes from adult animals with fluorescence activated synaptosome sorting (FASS), which enables powerful proteomics, transcriptomics and functional approaches.

Altogether, we aim at identifying new pathways in specific synapses and test their relevance for synaptic nanostructure and function in the normal and diseased brain.

Research Projects

Local Regulation of receptor trafficking in dendrites


Molecular and cellular mechanisms of endocytosis


Synaptomic dissection of Dopaminergic projections


Synaptic alterations and therapeutic approaches in neurodegenerative diseases



  • Imaging endocytosis with the ppH protocol
  • Ex-vivo cellular and molecular analysis of synapses
  • Semi-quantitative imaging of synaptic vesicle super-pool
  • News

    Post-synaptic exocytosis and synaptic plasticity - Cell Reports Sept 2021

    Synapses, the basic building blocks of neural networks, are both very stable and capable of rapid and long-lasting modifications, a phenomenon known as synaptic plasticity. The modification of a synapse often involves the addition of synaptic receptors (long-term potentiation or LTP) or the removal of part of the synaptic receptors (long-term depression or LTD). This rapid plasticity is possible because synaptic receptors are not immobile in the synapse but travel to intracellular compartments called recycling endosomes (RE). The regulation of RE trafficking has thus become an important topic of study for understanding the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity.

    Picture of all contributors of this study. David Perrais and May Bakr stand in front of "The paint pipette", taken by May, which was awarded the best IINS picture prize in 2020.

    In this study, we searched for the molecules involved in these phenomena, in particular the proteins responsible for exocytosis called SNAREs. The VAMP2 protein, target of the tetanus toxin (released by the bacterium responsible for tetanus and one of the most deadly in humans), was known to block LTP. However, to our surprise, it only marginally affected RE exocytosis. We therefore searched for other SNARE proteins and found VAMP4 to be responsible for the majority of RE exocytosis, whereas VAMP2 is involved in only a small fraction of exocytosis, but plays a major role in the exocytosis of REs containing AMPA-type postsynaptic receptors (see Figure). Furthermore, VAMP4 deletion also alters the trafficking of AMPA receptors that are in greater quantity at the surface of neurons, increasing synaptic transmission and limiting its plasticity by occlusion.
    This work shows the great diversity of membrane trafficking mechanisms in the dendrites of neurons that allows receptors to be delivered when and where they are needed to regulate individual synapses. It was the result of a long-term work, over more than eight years, of many students, engineers and researchers of the IINS.


    Dopamine hub synapses in the striatum

    Dopamine Hub Synapses in the striatum: a new hot spot for dopamine transmission?

    How is the conversation between neurons organized in the brain? Through 2 recent articles* we describe part of this organization between the dopamine and surrounding neurons at synapses. Synapses are points of contact between neurons, essential for the proper functioning of the brain. In the brain, neurons are of 2 main types. The effector neurons ensure a rapid and local transmission of information, either excitatory or inhibitory, while the modulatory neurons, few in number, affect large regions of the brain over longer periods of time. Modulatory neurons using dopamine are very important for the tuning of motor control, motivation and reward perception.

    In our studies, we established the first selective purification of dopaminergic synapses in the striatum that allowed us to identify 2650 proteins, 57 of which were specifically enriched. In contrast, few messenger RNAs (encoding proteins) are selectively detected, suggesting that local translation of proteins is not a major mechanism at the axons of dopaminergic neurons. In addition, we have identified a new structure where dopaminergic synapses physically interact with other classical synapses and affect the composition of the latter. These "Dopamine Hub Synapses" may mediate dopamine neuromodulation on striatal neuronal circuits, fueling the debate between volume and synaptic models of modulatory transmission. Within this new conceptual framework, future research will provide a detailed understanding of the cellular mechanisms by which dopamine modulates voluntary movements or reward-prediction based learning. This is crucial as many pathologies such as Parkinson's disease, addiction and schizophrenia are linked to dopamine dysfunction.

    - Contact: Etienne Herzog, Membrane traffic at synapses

    + Cf. the CNRS INSB website here

    * January 2022: Hobson, BD., et al. Subcellular and regional localization of mRNA translation in midbrain dopamine neurons. Cell Reports, 38-2, (2022)

    * June 2022: Paget-Blanc, V., Pfeffer, M.E., Pronot, M. et al. A synaptomic analysis reveals dopamine hub synapses in the mouse striatum. Nat Commun 13, 3102 (2022).

    Endocytosis in the axon initial segment maintains neuronal polarity - Nature, August 2022

    Neurons are highly polarized cells that face the fundamental challenge of compartmentalizing a vast and diverse repertoire of proteins in order to function properly. The axon initial segment (AIS) is a specialized domain that separates a neuron's morphologically, biochemically and functionally distinct axon and dendrite compartments. How the AIS maintains polarity between these compartments is not fully understood. Here we find that in Caenorhabditis elegans, mouse, rat and human neurons, dendritically and axonally polarized transmembrane proteins are recognized by endocytic machinery in the AIS, robustly endocytosed and targeted to late endosomes for degradation. Forcing receptor interaction with the AIS master organizer, ankyrinG, antagonizes receptor endocytosis in the AIS, causes receptor accumulation in the AIS, and leads to polarity deficits with subsequent morphological and behavioural defects. Therefore, endocytic removal of polarized receptors that diffuse into the AIS serves as a membrane-clearance mechanism that is likely to work in conjunction with the known AIS diffusion-barrier mechanism to maintain neuronal polarity on the plasma membrane. Our results reveal a conserved endocytic clearance mechanism in the AIS to maintain neuronal polarity by reinforcing axonal and dendritic compartment membrane boundaries.

    - Contact: David Perrais

    + See the CNRS INSB website here

    The team received an Equipe FRM award for their "SpaceNeuroModule" project

    Spatio-temporal control of catecholamine neuromodulation of hippocampal pyramidal cells: from mechanisms of neuromodulator release to receptor signaling and trafficking (SpaceNeuroModule)

    Scientific abstract

    Chemical neurotransmission has been classified into fast neurotransmission and neuromodulation. Fast chemical neurotransmission, used by a majority of neurons in the central nervous system, is spatially restricted, thanks to a tight spatial control of neurotransmitter release at the active zone, the presence of cognate post-synaptic receptors and powerful recapture systems. In contrast, neuromodulation arises from a small number of neurons mediating slow communication to widespread neuronal networks. The sparsity of neuromodulatory synapses and the absence of direct ionotropic receptor signaling hampered our ability to resolve neuromodulation mechanisms at the micrometer and millisecond scale. In the project SpaceNeuroModule, we will address this question at noradrenaline projections in the hippocampus. We will use state-of-the art synaptosome sorting, proteomics, correlative cryo light and electron tomography (cryoCLEM), receptor interactome profiling, live cell fluorescence imaging and electrophysiology in vitro and ex vivo. We have defined 2 work packages to address the release of neuromodulators and the activation of their receptors at pyramidal dendrites, which regulates attention related learning and stress-related behaviors. First, we will determine the organization and dynamics of noradrenaline release sites. Second, we will assess the spatio-temporal extent of beta-adrenergic signaling in post-synaptic compartments. This research program will enable the formulation of design principles for neuromodulatory systems which will be tested further in disease models.

    Lay abstract

    The brain is composed of neurons which connect each other through synapses. A neuron sends neurotransmitter molecules to a connected neuron which captures them with specific receptors. Because a neuron receives up to thousands of synapses, some using the same neurotransmitter, each message must be sent precisely at the right place and travel minimal distance to the connected neuron and not spill over to neighboring synapses. Classical synapses are very specialized in ensuring this specific transmission with precise locations for release sites and receptors: decades of intense work from researchers around the world have discovered many of the building blocks of these synapses. A special category of neurons called neuromodulatory neurons, which comprise in particular dopaminergic neurons which degenerate in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, act in a different way. They do not mediate a fast signal but modulate large assemblies of neurons, even though they send molecules, in this case dopamine, to other neurons from specific sites. Because of technical difficulties such as the rarity of these neurons and their lack of fast signaling, we do not yet know how exactly is dopamine released and if specific sites are privileged, nor how receptors which are activated locally can convey the signal to the rest of the neuron. We will use state-of-the-art methods to purify neuromodulator synapses and identify new specific molecules (proteins). We will watch the structure of these sites with high resolution microscopes to understand what are the differences with classical synapses. Finally, we will image in brain tissue the release of neuromodulator and the activation and movement of their receptors to define how neuromodulation is organized and controlled in the brain.

    Selected Publications

  • Paget-Blanc V, Pfeffer ME, Pronot M, Lapios P, Angelo MF, Walle R, Cordelieres FP, Levet F, Claverol S, Lacomme S, Petrel M, Martin C, Pitard V, Desmedt-Peyrusse V, Biederer T, Perrais D, Trifilieff P, Herzog E
  • Synaptomic analysis of dopaminergic inputs reveal hub synapses in the mouse striatum Nature Communications (2022)

  • Eichel K, Uenaka T, Belapurkar V, Lu R, Cheng S, Pak JS, Taylor CA, Südhof TC, Malenka RC, Wernig M, Özkan E, Perrais D, Shen K
  • Endocytosis in the axon initial segment is a clearance mechanism to maintain neuronal polarity Nature (2022)

  • May Bakr, Damien Jullié, Julia Krapivkina, Vincent Paget-Blanc, Lou Bouit, Jennifer Petersen, Natacha Retailleau, Christelle Breillat, Etienne Herzog, Daniel Choquet, David Perrais
  • The vSNAREs VAMP2 and VAMP4 control recycling and intracellular sorting of post-synaptic receptors in neuronal dendrites Cell Reports (2021)

  • Silvia Sposini, Morgane Rosendale, Léa Claverie, TN Ngoc Van, Damien Jullié & David Perrais
  • Imaging endocytic vesicle formation at high spatial and temporal resolutions with the pulsed-pH protocol Nature Protocols (2020)

  • Morgane Rosendale, TN Ngoc Van, Dolors Grillo-Bosch, Silvia Sposini, Léa Claverie, Isabel Gautereau, Stéphane Claverol, Daniel Choquet, Matthieu Sainlos & David Perrais
  • Functional recruitment of dynamin requires multimeric interactions for efficient endocytosis Nature Communications (2019)

  • Hafner A-S, Donlin-Asp PG, Leitch B, Herzog E & Schuman EM.
  • Local protein synthesis is a ubiquitous feature of neuronal pre- and postsynaptic compartments. Science (2019)

  • Blumenstock S, angelo MF, Peters F, Dorostkar MM, Ruf VC, Luckner M, Crux S, Slapakova L, Arzberger T, Claverol S, Herzog E* & Herms J*
  • Early defects in translation elongation factor 1α levels at excitatory synapses in α-synucleinopathy Acta Neuropathologica (2019)

  • Zhang XM, Francois U, Silm K, angelo MF, Fernández Busch MV, Maged M, Martin C, Cordelières FP, Deshors M, Pons S, Maskos U, Bemelmans A-P, Wojcik SM, Mestikawy El S, Humeau Y & Herzog E
  • A proline-rich motif on VGLUT1 reduces synaptic vesicle super-pool and spontaneous release frequency eLife (2019)

  • Magalie Martineau, Agila Somasundaram, Jonathan B Grimm, Todd D Gruber, Daniel Choquet, Justin W Taraska, Luke D Lavis & David Perrais
  • Semisynthetic fluorescent pH sensors for imaging exocytosis and endocytosis Nature Communications (2017)

  • Morgane Rosendale, Damien Jullié, Daniel Choquet & David Perrais
  • Spatial and temporal regulation of receptor endocytosis in neuronal dendrites revealed by imaging of single vesicle formation Cell Reports (2017)


    « Researcher »

    HERZOG Etienne Researcher +33533514861
    PERRAIS David Researcher +33533514861

    « Technical Staff »

    ANGIBAUD Julie Technical staff +33533514748
    BOUIT Lou Technical staff +33533514861

    « Postdoc »

    BELAPURKAR Vivek Postdoc +33533514700
    JELINKOVA Sarka Postdoc +33533514861
    PAGET-BLANC Vincent Postdoc +33533514861
    REYNAUD Antoine Postdoc +33533514700
    SPOSINI Silvia Postdoc +33533514861

    « PhD student »

    LAPIOS Paul PhD student +33533514779

    « Alumni & Guests »

    May Bakr (PhD student 2017-2021 - Now Assistant Professor at American University of Cairo, Egypt)

    Florencia Angelo (Lab Manager, 2015-2020 - Now Lab Manager at NutriNeuro Lab, Bordeaux, France)

    Magalie Martineau (post-doc, 2015-2019 - Now  Research and Development specialist at EIF Innovation, Paris, France)

    Léa Claverie (PhD student, 2015-2019 - Now Project Manager at Euroquality, Bordeaux, France)

    Domenico Azarnia Tehran (Guest, 2019)

    Anne-Sophie Hafner (Guest, 2017-2018)

    Thi Nhu Ngoc Van (post-doc, 2014-2016 - Now Project Manager at Sys2dia, Montpellier, France)

    Julia Krapivkina (PhD student, 2012-2016 - Now Project Manager at Assystem, Paris, France)

    Xiao Min Zhang (PhD Student, 2012-2016 - Now Assistant Professor at Sun Yat Sen University - China)

    Morgane Rosendale (PhD student and post-doc, 2011-2016 - Now post-doctoral fellow at Institute for Molecular Sciences, Bordeaux)

    Damien Jullié (PhD student, 2008-2012 - Now Research Specialist at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, San Francisco, USA)


    ANR LocalEndoProbes
    ANR-PRC 2019 DopamineHub
    CoEN Pathfinder IV 2019 - LocalDementia