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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2008 Feb;18(1):69-76. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2008.04.003. Epub 2008 Jun 4.

Building a synapse: lessons on synaptic specificity and presynaptic assembly from the nematode C. elegans.

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Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA.


Synapses are specialized sites of cell contact that mediate information flow between neurons and their targets. Genetic screens in the nematode C. elegans have led to the discovery of a number of molecules required for synapse patterning and assembly. Recent studies have demonstrated the importance of guidepost cells in the positioning of presynaptic sites at specific locations along the axon. Interestingly, these guideposts can promote or inhibit synapse formation, and do so by utilizing transmembrane adhesion molecules or secreted factors that act over relatively larger distances. Once the decision of where to build a presynaptic terminal has been made, key molecules are recruited to assemble synaptic vesicles and active zone proteins at that site. Multiple steps of this process are regulated by ubiquitin ligase complexes. Interestingly, some of the molecules involved in presynaptic assembly also play roles in regulating axon polarity and outgrowth, suggesting that different neurodevelopmental processes are molecularly integrated.

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