Isolation of Synaptosomes, Synaptic Plasma Membranes, and Synaptic Junctional Complexes

  • Mary L. Michaelis
  • Lei Jiang
  • Elias K. Michaelis
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1538)


Isolation of synaptic nerve terminals or synaptosomes provides an opportunity to study the process of neurotransmission at many levels and with a variety of approaches. For example, structural features of the synaptic terminals and the organelles within them, such as synaptic vesicles and mitochondria, have been elucidated with electron microscopy. The postsynaptic membranes are joined to the presynaptic “active zone” of transmitter release through cell adhesion molecules and remain attached throughout the isolation of synaptosomes. These “post synaptic densities” or “PSDs” contain the receptors for the transmitters released from the nerve terminals and can easily be seen with electron microscopy. Biochemical and cell biological studies with synaptosomes have revealed which proteins and lipids are most actively involved in synaptic release of neurotransmitters. The functional properties of the nerve terminals, such as responses to depolarization and the uptake or release of signaling molecules, have also been characterized through the use of fluorescent dyes, tagged transmitters, and transporter substrates. In addition, isolated synaptosomes can serve as the starting material for the isolation of relatively pure synaptic plasma membranes (SPMs) that are devoid of organelles from the internal environment of the nerve terminal, such as mitochondria and synaptic vesicles. The isolated SPMs can reseal and form vesicular structures in which transport of ions such as sodium and calcium, as well as solutes such as neurotransmitters can be studied. The PSDs also remain associated with the presynaptic membranes during isolation of SPM fractions, making it possible to isolate the synaptic junctional complexes (SJCs) devoid of the rest of the plasma membranes of the nerve terminals and postsynaptic membrane components. Isolated SJCs can be used to identify the proteins that constitute this highly specialized region of neurons. In this chapter, we describe the steps involved in isolating synaptosomes, SPMs, and SJCs from brain so that these preparations can be used with new technological advances to address many as yet unanswered questions about the synapse and its remarkable activities in neuronal cell communication.

Key words

Synaptosomes Synaptic plasma membranes Post synaptic densities Synaptic junctional complexes Ultracentrifugation Synaptic membrane proteins 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary L. Michaelis
    • 1
  • Lei Jiang
    • 1
  • Elias K. Michaelis
    • 1
  1. 1.Higuchi Biosciences CenterUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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