Synapses Under Construction

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Science  05 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5467, pp. 773
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5467.773e

Presynaptic terminals are tiny, complicated portions of neurons and are located far from the cell body, often at the very end of long processes. Neuronal communication occurs when transmitters are released from the presynaptic terminal and bind to receptors on the surface of the postsynaptic neuron. But how does the cell construct these distant structures? Ahmari et al. address this question by real-time imaging of hippocampal neurons in culture. By tagging the synaptic protein VAMP with green fluorescent protein, these authors could see that large assemblies of membranes, vesicles, and synaptic proteins were carried together in discrete packets down the axon and into the processes. As a synapse formed, these packets were diverted and localized. The preloaded vesicles then matured and were able to begin releasing transmitter within hours. Thus, partial fabrication of synaptic components in the cell body enables the cell to form synapses where needed, quickly and efficiently.—KK

Nature Neurosci.3, 445 (2000).

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