Current Biology, 17 November 2014, Vol.24(22), pp.R1076-R1080
Synapses are specialized asymmetric cell–cell connections permitting the controlled transfer of an electrical or chemical signal between a presynaptic neuronal cell and a postsynaptic target cell (e.g. neuron or muscle). Adequate synapse function is an essential prerequisite of all neuronal processing, including higher cognitive functions, such as learning and memory. At synapses, neurotransmitters (e.g. amino acids, amines, peptides, and acetylcholine) are released from synaptic vesicles into the synaptic cleft in response to action potentials. The Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 2013 was awarded to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof “for their discoveries of the machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”. This included crucial revelations, such as the identification of the core machinery of synaptic vesicle fusion. However, in contrast to the advances concerning the organization of the core functions of the synapse, our current understanding of the processes of synapse formation and maintenance — i.e. ‘synaptogenesis’ — is still somewhat fragmentary. Here, we will outline the current status and future directions of the field of synaptogenesis, primarily from the perspective of the presynaptic release site. Here Petzoldt and Sigrist discuss our current understanding of the processes involved in synapse formation and maintenance.
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