Synaptic Transmission

  • Henrique von Gersdorff


The nervous system is composed of specialized cellular circuits that allow an animal to perform tasks essential for survival. Neurons are organized to form these circuits, and they transmit electrical and chemical signals among themselves to process sensory input, initiate behavioral responses, and regulate an animal’s internal physiology. The critical link between neurons that permits communication and establishes the foundation for neuronal circuitry is called the synapse, and this chapter will discuss fundamental synaptic properties.

Synapses are sites of close cellular contact where fast, highly localized transmission of chemical and electrical signals can occur. The human brain has approximately 1011neurons that form about 1015 synapses. By comparison, the simple nematode worm C. eleganshas exactly 320 neurons with only about 7600 synapses. The capacity of the human brain to form such an astronomical number of synapses has surely contributed to the success of our...


Synaptic Vesicle AMPA Receptor Synaptic Cleft Presynaptic Terminal Postsynaptic Neuron 
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The author thanks Dr. Court Hull for discussions and editorial help on an earlier version of this chapter and Dr. Daniel Gardner for the use of several figures modified from a chapter of his that appeared in an earlier edition of this textbook.

Selected Readings

  1. Augustine, G.A. Synaptic transmission. In: Neuroscience, Second edition, edited by Purves, D., Augustine, G.A., Fitzpatrick, D., Katz, L., LaMantia, A.-S., McNamara, J.O., Williams, S.M. Sinauer, Sunderland, MA, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. Gardner, D. Synaptic transmission. In: Neuroscience in Medicine, edited by Conn, M.P. J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1995.Google Scholar
  3. Kandel, E. and Siegelbaum, S.A. Transmitter release. In: Principles of Neural Science, Fourth edition, edited by Kandel, E., Schwartz, J.H., Jessell, T.M. McGraw Hill, New York, 2000.Google Scholar
  4. Morest, D.K. et al. Stimulus coding at the caudal levels of the cat’s auditory nervous system. In: Basic Mechanisms of Hearing, edited by Möller, A.R. Academic Press, New York, 1973.Google Scholar
  5. von Gersdorff, H. Synaptic ribbons: versatile signal transducers. Neuron 2001;29:7–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. von Gersdorff, H. and Borst, J.G.G. Short-term plasticity at the calyx of Held. Nat Rev Neurosci 2002;3:53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Humana Press, Totowa, NJ 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henrique von Gersdorff
    • 1
  1. 1.Oregon Health & Science UniversityThe Vollum InstitutePortlandUSA

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