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 Chemical Synapses (AG Gundelfinger)

 The chemical synapse

Chemical synapses are key structures for communication between nerve cells. Synaptic contacts are formed late during development of the nervous system and most synapses preserve a remarkable plasticity throughout their lifetime. This synaptic plasticity provides the functional basis for learning and memory processes in the brain. Therefore, understanding of synaptic structure and function is fundamental to the appreciation of learning and memory at the molecular level.

Synapses are complex cell-cell contact sites formed by the axon terminal membrane of the presynaptic neuron, which contains the apparatus for neurotransmitter release, and the postsynaptic membrane specialized for the reception of neurotransmitter signals. Both the active zone of neurotransmitter release and the postsynaptic reception apparatus are characterized by an electron-dense cytomatrix: the cytomatrix at the active zone (CAZ) and the postsynaptic density (PSD). Research in the department is aimed at finding out how this complex synaptic geometry is assembled and maintained and to understand the molecular restructuring processes underlying synaptic plasticity.

Cartoon of a chemical synapse

Fig. 1 : Cartoon of a chemical synapse. The postsynaptic density anchors neurotransmitter receptors and synaptic cell adhesion molecules. The presynaptic cytomatrix at the active zone (CAZ) defines the site of regulated neurotransmitter release from synaptic vesicles. Both structures are investigated in the Gundelfinger lab.

Mossy fiber bouton in the hippocampus of a rat making multiple synaptic contacts with post-synaptic neurons

Fig. 2 : Mossy fiber bouton in the hippocampus of a rat making multiple synaptic contacts with post-synaptic neurons. PSD, postsynaptic density; CAZ, cytomatrix at the active zone; SV, synaptic vesicles.

Synapse reviews:

Dresbach et al. 2003. Neurotransmitterfreisetzung an chemischen Synapsen. [Abstract] [PDF]

Dresbach T, Altrock WD, Gundelfinger ED (2003) Neurotransmitterfreisetzung an chemischen Synapsen: Zusammenbau und molekulare Organisation der aktiven Zone. Neuroforum 3/03.[Link]

Gundelfinger ED, Kessels MM, Qualmann B (2003) Temporal and spatial coordination of exocytosis and endocytosis. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 4(2):127-139.[Link]

Boeckers TM, Bockmann J, Kreutz MR, Gundelfinger ED (2002) ProSAP/Shank proteins - a family of higher order organizing molecules of the postsynaptic density with an emerging role in human neurological disease. J Neurochem 81(5):903-910.[Link]

Garner CC, Zhai RG, Gundelfinger ED, Ziv NE (2002) Molecular mechanisms of CNS synaptogenesis. Trends Neurosci 25(5):243-251.

Thomas U (2002) Modulation of synaptic signalling complexes by Homer proteins. J Neurochem 81(3):407-413.

Dresbach T, Qualmann B, Kessels MM, Garner CC, Gundelfinger ED (2001) The presynaptic cytomatrix of brain synapses. Cell Mol Life Sci 58(1):94-116.

Garner CC, Kindler S, Gundelfinger ED (2000) Molecular determinants of presynaptic active zones. Curr Opin Neurobiol 10(3):321-327.

Gundelfinger ED, tom Dieck S (2000) Molecular organization of excitatory chemical synapses in the mammalian brain. Naturwissenschaften 87(12):513-523.

tom Dieck S, Gundelfinger ED (2000) Chemische Synapsen des Zentralnervensystems. In: Chemie in unserer Zeit, 34, pp 140-148.

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