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Biophys J. Nov 2002; 83(5): 2333–2348.
PMCID: PMC1302323

A Monte Carlo model reveals independent signaling at central glutamatergic synapses.

Abstract

We have developed a biophysically realistic model of receptor activation at an idealized central glutamatergic synapse that uses Monte Carlo techniques to simulate the stochastic nature of transmission following release of a single synaptic vesicle. For the a synapse with 80 AMPA and 20 NMDA receptors, a single quantum, with 3000 glutamate molecules, opened approximately 3 NMDARs and 20 AMPARs. The number of open receptors varied directly with the total number of receptors, and the fraction of open receptors did not depend on the ratio of co-localized AMPARs and NMDARs. Variability decreased with increases in either total receptor number or quantal size, and differences between the variability of AMPAR and NMDAR responses were due solely to unequal numbers of receptors at the synapse. Despite NMDARs having a much higher affinity for glutamate than AMPARs, quantal release resulted in similar occupancy levels in both receptor types. Receptor activation increased with number of transmitter molecules released or total receptor number, whereas occupancy levels were only dependent on quantal size. Tortuous diffusion spaces reduced the extent of spillover and the activation of extrasynaptic receptors. These results support the conclusion that signaling is spatially independent within and between central glutamatergic synapses.

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