Neurons send out a multitude of chemical signals, called neurotransmitters, to communicate between neurons in brain, and between neurons and target cells in the periphery. The most important of these communication processes is synaptic transmission, which accounts for the ability of the brain to rapidly process information, and which is characterized by the fast and localized transfer of a signal from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic cell. Other communication processes, such as the modulation of the neuronal state in entire brain regions by neuromodulators, provide an essential component of this information processing capacity. A large number of diverse neurotransmitters are used by neurons, ranging from classical fast transmitters such as glycine and glutamate over neuropeptides to lipophilic compounds and gases such as endocannabinoids and nitric oxide. Most of these transmitters are released by exocytosis, the i.e. the fusion of secretory vesicles with the plasma membrane, which exhibits distinct properties for different types of neurotransmitters. The present chapter will provide an overview of the process of neurotransmitter release and its historical context, and give a reference point for the other chapters in this book.
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