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Molecular organization and assembly of the presynaptic active zone of neurotransmitter release.

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Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Department of Neurochemistry and Molecular Biology, Magdeburg, Germany.


At chemical synapses, neurotransmitter is released at a restricted region of the presynaptic plasma membrane, called the active zone. At the active zone, a matrix of proteins is assembled, which is termed the presynaptic grid or cytomatrix at the active zone (CAZ). Components of the CAZ are thought to localize and organize the synaptic vesicle cycle, a series of membrane trafficking events underlying regulated neurotransmitter exocytosis. This review is focused on a set of specific proteins involved in the structural and functional organization of the CAZ. These include the multi-domain Rab3-effector proteins RIM1alpha and RIM2alpha; Bassoon and Piccolo, two multi-domain CAZ scaffolding proteins of enormous size; as well as members of the CAST/ERC family of CAZ-specific structural proteins. Studies on ribbon synapses of retinal photoreceptor cells have fostered understanding the molecular design of the CAZ. In addition, the analysis of the delivery pathways for Bassoon and Piccolo to presynaptic sites during development has produced new insights into assembly mechanisms of brain synapses during development. Based on these studies, the active zone transport vesicle hypothesis was formulated, which postulates that active zones, at least in part, are pre-assembled in neuronal cell bodies and transported as so-called Piccolo-Bassoon transport vesicles (PTVs) to sites of synaptogenesis. Several PTVs can fuse on demand with the presynaptic membrane to rapidly form an active zone.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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