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Auton Neurosci. 2013 Jun;176(1-2):11-31. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2013.02.012. Epub 2013 Mar 25.

Structure activity relationship of synaptic and junctional neurotransmission.

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  • 1Center for Swallowing and Motility Disorders, GI Division, VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA. raj_goyal@hms.harvard.edu


Chemical neurotransmission may include transmission to local or remote sites. Locally, contact between 'bare' portions of the bulbous nerve terminal termed a varicosity and the effector cell may be in the form of either synapse or non-synaptic contact. Traditionally, all local transmissions between nerves and effector cells are considered synaptic in nature. This is particularly true for communication between neurons. However, communication between nerves and other effectors such as smooth muscles has been described as nonsynaptic or junctional in nature. Nonsynaptic neurotransmission is now also increasingly recognized in the CNS. This review focuses on the relationship between structure and function that orchestrate synaptic and junctional neurotransmissions. A synapse is a specialized focal contact between the presynaptic active zone capable of ultrafast release of soluble transmitters and the postsynaptic density that cluster ionotropic receptors. The presynaptic and the postsynaptic areas are separated by the 'closed' synaptic cavity. The physiological hallmark of the synapse is ultrafast postsynaptic potentials lasting milliseconds. In contrast, junctions are juxtapositions of nerve terminals and the effector cells without clear synaptic specializations and the junctional space is 'open' to the extracellular space. Based on the nature of the transmitters, postjunctional receptors and their separation from the release sites, the junctions can be divided into 'close' and 'wide' junctions. Functionally, the 'close' and the 'wide' junctions can be distinguished by postjunctional potentials lasting ~1s and tens of seconds, respectively. Both synaptic and junctional communications are common between neurons; however, junctional transmission is the rule at many neuro-non-neural effectors.

Published by Elsevier B.V.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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