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Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2012 Jan 1;4(1):a011353. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a011353.

Calcium control of neurotransmitter release.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Upon entering a presynaptic terminal, an action potential opens Ca(2+) channels, and transiently increases the local Ca(2+) concentration at the presynaptic active zone. Ca(2+) then triggers neurotransmitter release within a few hundred microseconds by activating synaptotagmins Ca(2+). Synaptotagmins bind Ca(2+) via two C2-domains, and transduce the Ca(2+) signal into a nanomechanical activation of the membrane fusion machinery; this activation is mediated by the Ca(2+)-dependent interaction of the synaptotagmin C2-domains with phospholipids and SNARE proteins. In triggering exocytosis, synaptotagmins do not act alone, but require an obligatory cofactor called complexin, a small protein that binds to SNARE complexes and simultaneously activates and clamps the SNARE complexes, thereby positioning the SNARE complexes for subsequent synaptotagmin action. The conserved function of synaptotagmins and complexins operates generally in most, if not all, Ca(2+)-regulated forms of exocytosis throughout the body in addition to synaptic vesicle exocytosis, including in the degranulation of mast cells, acrosome exocytosis in sperm cells, hormone secretion from endocrine cells, and neuropeptide release.

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