The human brain contains at least 100 billion neurons, each with the ability to influence many other cells. Clearly, highly sophisticated and efficient mechanisms are needed to enable communication among this astronomical number of elements. This communication occurs across synapses, the functional connection between neurons. Synapses can be divided into two general classes: electrical synapses and chemical synapses. Electrical synapses permit direct, passive flow of electrical current from one neuron to another. The current flows through gap junctions, specialized membrane channels that connect the two cells. Chemical synapses enable cell-to-cell communication using neurotransmitter release. Neurotransmitters are chemical agents released by presynaptic neurons that trigger a secondary current flow in postsynaptic neurons by activating specific receptor molecules. Neurotransmitter secretion is triggered by the influx of Ca2+ through voltage-gated channels, which gives rise to a transient increase in Ca2+ concentration within the presynaptic terminal. The rise in Ca2+ concentration causes synaptic vesicles (the presynaptic organelles that store neurotransmitters) to fuse with the presynaptic plasma membrane and release their contents into the space between the pre- and postsynaptic cells.
|GO Biological Process||synaptic transmission (0007268)|
|Neuroscience 2nd Edition||Sinauer Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 407 23 Plumtree Road, Sunderland, MA 01375 U.S.A.||2001|