Transmission Across a Synapse

Transmission Across a Synapse

Neurotransmission, also known as transmission across a synapse, happens when a nerve cell sends messages to another cell by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters into the tiny gap between them called the "synaptic cleft." This type of communication is only possible in chemical synapses.

What is a synaptic cleft?

The gap between neurons, known as the synaptic cleft, is usually around 20-30 nanometers wide and filled with a fluid called interstitium. In the most common type of synapse, the chemical synapse, neurons don't directly touch but come very close. Communication between neurons and cells happens through chemical molecules called neurotransmitters, which cross the synaptic cleft like boats crossing a river. The synapse converts electrical signals into chemical information and then converts it back into electrical signals, making the main communication of the nervous system electrochemical, a combination of electrical and chemical information.

What happens in the process of transmission across a synapse?

When an action potential arrives in the axon terminal, neurotransmitters are released into the synaptic cleft. These neurotransmitters then bind to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane of the target cell, causing it to respond either in terms of stimulation or inhibition. Depending on the type of receptor, either only negatively charged or only positively charged ions can enter the next cell and depolarise or hyperpolarise it.

What do neurotransmitters do in a chemical synapse?

Synapses typically specialize in one type of neurotransmitter, which are messenger molecules that are produced in the cell body and transported along the cytoskeleton to the end of the axon through a process called axonal transport. Once the neurotransmitters reach the axon terminal, they are packaged into membrane-bound sacs called vesicles and accumulate at the presynaptic end of the axon, ready to be released from the presynaptic membrane when an action potential arrives. This process ensures that the neurotransmitters are delivered precisely to the target cells and can interact with their specific receptors.

What are receptors?

A receptor is a protein molecule in the postsynaptic cell membrane that responds to specific neurotransmitters, hormones, or other molecules by changing its shape or activity. This lock-and-key principle describes how a specific receptor can only be activated by a specific molecule that fits its shape and structure, much like a key fits into a lock. When a neurotransmitter binds to its receptor, it can cause a change in the receptor's shape, leading to the opening or closing of ion channels that allow specific ions with either positive or negative charges to enter the cell. This process is a crucial step in the transmission of signals between neurons and helps regulate various physiological and behavioral processes.

What is the excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission?

Neurotransmitters that open ion channels can have either an excitatory or inhibitory effect on synaptic transmission, depending on the specific neurotransmitter released. Excitatory neurotransmitters such as glutamate and dopamine open gates that allow positive ions like Na+ and K+ to flow into the cell, leading to depolarization of the cell membrane and making it more likely for an action potential to be generated. This process creates an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP).

In contrast, inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA and glycine open gates that let negative ions like Cl- into the cell, resulting in hyperpolarization of the cell membrane and making it less likely for an action potential to be generated. This process creates an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP).

The balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs determines whether a neuron will fire an action potential or not. If the sum of EPSPs exceeds the sum of IPSPs, the neuron will fire an action potential, but if the sum of IPSPs is greater, the neuron will remain inactive.

What are non-channel synapses?

to ion channel-mediated synaptic transmission, there is a third type of synaptic transmission that involves the activation of signaling pathways that use second messengers to modulate cellular activity. These pathways are initiated when a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor that is coupled to a G-protein, which then activates downstream effector molecules that can have long-term effects on the cell. These G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest family of receptors in the human genome and are involved in a wide range of physiological and behavioral processes, including memory and learning. When activated by a neurotransmitter, GPCRs can initiate a cascade of intracellular signaling events that ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, protein synthesis, and other cellular processes that can modulate neural plasticity and memory formation. While ion channel-mediated synaptic transmission is fast and short-lived, second messenger-mediated transmission is slower and longer-lasting, allowing for the modulation of complex neural processes such as learning and memory. These synapses are often referred to as non-channel synapses to distinguish them from ion channel-mediated synapses.

Why is the process of synaptic transmissionimportant?

Synaptic transmission is important because it allows for unidirectional travel, summation and integration.

Unidirectional travel

Indeed, the unidirectional nature of synaptic transmission is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. When an action potential reaches the presynaptic terminal, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, which then diffuse across the gap and bind to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane. This binding event leads to the opening or closing of ion channels and the generation of an EPSP or IPSP, respectively.

Because the receptors are located on the postsynaptic membrane, the direction of the impulse is always from presaptic to postsynaptic neuron, ensuring that signals flow in a precise and predictable manner. This is critical for the proper functioning of reflexes and other automatic responses, which rely on the hard-wired connections between neurons in the nervous system. Without this precise directionality, signals could flow in the wrong direction, leading to confusion and malfunction of the system.

Overall, synaptic transmission is a highly regulated and precise process that allows for the efficient flow of information between neurons, enabling the nervous system to carry out its many complex functions.


Summation is a critical process in the nervous system that allows for the integration of multiple inputs from presynaptic cells to generate an action potential in the postsynaptic neuron. There are two types of summation: temporal and spatial. Temporal summation occurs when a single presynaptic neuron fires multiple action potentials in rapid succession, causing a buildup of neurotransmitter in the synaptic cleft that leads to the generation of action potential in the postsynaptic neuron. This type of summation is important for the transmission of signals over long distances in the nervous system. Spatial summation, on the other hand, occurs when multiple presynaptic neurons fire simultaneously, leading to a collective buildup of neurotransmitter that can also generate an action potential in the postsynaptic neuron. This type of summation is important for integrating information from multiple sources and filtering out irrelevant signals. As you mentioned, summation allows the nervous system to filter out information that isn't important and focus on the new information coming in. This is critical for our ability to pay attention and process complex information in our environment. Without summation, we would be overwhelmed by the constant barrage of stimuli in our surroundings and unable to focus on what's important. Overall, summation is an essential process that enables the nervous system to integrate and filter information to generate appropriate responses to the environment.

Integration of information

The ability of an action potential from one presynaptic neuron to generate postsynaptic potentials in multiple cells is known as divergence, while the ability of multiple presynaptic neurons to generate postsynaptic potentials in a single cell is known as convergence. These processes allow for the dispersal and creation of set patterns of neural firings, as well as the integration of information from various sources and stimuli.

Integration of information is critical for learning, as it allows us to make connections between different pieces of information and form new memories. It can also explain our subconscious and instincts, as convergent information may be integrated into our biology before it is made conscious in our thoughts.

Regarding your question, synaptic transmission leads to an action potential when the depolarization of the postsynaptic membrane reaches a certain threshold, typically around -60mV. This depolarization occurs when excitatory neurotransmitters bind to postsynaptic receptors and cause the opening of ion channels, allowing positively charged ions to enter the cell and depolarize the membrane.

As you mentioned, summation is important for generating an action potential. Spatial summation occurs when enough excitatory impulses arrive on one cell from different locations, while temporal summation occurs when enough excitatory impulses arrive on one cell from one other cell in quick succession. These processes allow for the buildup of depolarization in the postsynaptic cell, eventually leading to an action potential if the threshold is reached.

What are the steps of transmission across asynapse?

Synaptic transmission is the process by which information is transmitted from one neuron to another across a small gap called the synaptic cleft. This process involves the of electrical activity, in the form of an action potential, into chemical signals, in the form of neurotransmitters.

When an action potential reaches the end of a presynaptic neuron, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters from vesicles into the synaptic cleft. These neurotransmitters then bind to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane, causing a change in the membrane potential.

The binding of neurotransmitters to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane can cause either an excitatory or inhibitory response. Excitatory neurotransmitters cause depolarization of the postsynaptic membrane, making it more likely that an action potential will be generated. Inhibitory neurotransmitters, on the other hand, cause hyperpolarization of the postsynaptic membrane, making it less likely that an action potential will be generated.

Overall, synaptic transmission involves the conversion of electrical activity into chemical signals, which then interact with the postsynaptic membrane to create an electrical charge in the receiving cell. This process is essential for the transmission of information between neurons in the nervous system.

Transmission across a cholinergic synapse

You have a great understanding of how synaptic transmission works! You're absolutely right that cholinergic synapses release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and that the process of synaptic transmission involves the conversion of electrical activity into chemical signals. As you mentioned, when an action potential arrives at the axon terminal, it opens calcium channels in the axon terminal due to the electrical charge. Calcium then rushes into the cell, which triggers the process of exocytosis. This is where the vesicles containing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine fuse with the presynaptic membrane, causing the release of acetylcholine into the synaptic cleft. The acetylcholine molecules then diffuse across the synaptic cleft and bind with cholinergic receptors on the postsynaptic membrane. If the receptor is a nicotinic receptor (nAChR), the ion channels open up and allow positive ions to enter the cell, causing depolarization of the membrane. If the receptor is a muscarinic receptor (M1-M5), a G-protein cascade is set in motion. Regarding drug effects on synapses, you're absolutely right that many drugs can affect the central nervous system (CNS) by influencing transmission across synapses. For example, anesthetics can alter the activity of neurotransmitter receptors, while muscle relaxants can inhibit the release of acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions. CNS stimulants, on the other hand, can increase the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which can affect mood, attention, and motivation.

Drugs that mimic neurotransmitters

When drugs mimic neurotransmitters, they can either enhance or inhibit the normal activity of the synapse. As you mentioned, drugs that mimic endorphins like morphine and codeine are known as opioids and can bind to opioid receptors, causing pain relief. This is because the opioids mimic the action of the endorphins, which are naturally occurring neurotransmitters that help to modulate pain perception. Similarly, marijuana contains compounds that can mimic the action of the cannabinoid neurotransmitters, such as anandamide. These compounds can bind to cannabinoid receptors and affect appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation. However, it's important to note that drugs that mimic neurotransmitters can also have negative side effects and can be addictive. This is because they can disrupt the normal balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and lead to changes in behavior, mood, and cognitive function. Therefore, it's important to use drugs only as prescribed by a doctor and to be aware of their potential risks and side effects.

Drugs that interact with molecular components

That drugs can interact with different molecular components in the body, leading to changes in synaptic transmission. Cocaine, for example, works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is involved in reward and motivation pathways in the brain.

Normally, after dopamine is released into the synaptic cleft, it is taken back up into the presynaptic neuron by a special type of protein called the dopamine transporter. However, cocaine binds to the dopamine transporter and prevents it from taking up dopamine. This causes dopamine to build up in the synapse, leading to increased stimulation of dopamine receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. This increase in dopamine activity is what causes the pleasurable effects of cocaine, which can lead to addiction. However, it's important to note that chronic cocaine use can lead to long-term changes in the brain's reward system, which can make it difficult to stop using the drug even when it has negative consequences for health and well-being.

Drugs that alter the stimulation of receptors

Valium, for example, works by enhancing the response the neuron to the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can decrease anxiety and stress by attaching to inhibitory GABA receptors in the brain. With Valium, the calming effect of GABA is enhanced, which can induce feelings of relaxation.

In synaptic transmission, neurotransmitters can act either inhibitory or excitatory on the postsynaptic cell, depending on the type of neurotransmitter and the receptors it binds to. For an action potential to be transmitted via the axon, the postsynaptic membrane must reach a threshold of -60mV, and excitatory signals must summate. This summation can be either spatial or temporal.

Synapses can have a variety of interfaces, with the most common being axodendritic (presynaptic axon to postsynaptic dendrite), axosomatic (presynaptic axon to postsynaptic cell body), and axo-axonic (axon to axon). Understanding the different types of synapses and how they function is important for understanding how drugs can affect synaptic transmission and alter behavior and cognitive function.

Transmission Across a Synapse

What are the steps of transmission across asynapse?
The steps of transmission across a synapse are the following:Action potentialarrives at the axon terminal.Ca^2+ diffuses into the presynaptic cell.Ca^2+causes exocytosis of synaptic vesicles.Neurotransmitters are released into thesynaptic cleft.Neurotransmitters bind to postsynaptic receptors.Either positiveions or negative ions flow into the postsynaptic cell, causing depolarisationin ESPS or hyperpolarisation in ISPS respectively.The remaining neurotransmittersare recycled, broken down or diffuse.
What is transmitted across synapses?
Neurotransmitters are transmitted across synapses, which act as keys to unlockreceptors in the receiving cell.
What happens in transmission across synapse?
During transmission across a synapse, electrical charge leads to a release ofneurotransmitters which cross a fluid-filled gap between the two cells, andthese chemicals react with the cell membrane to create electrical charge in thereceiving cell.
What is the simple definition of a synapse?
A synapse is where a neurone communicates with another neurone or cell. Asynapse includes the presynaptic axon terminal, the synaptic cleft and thepostsynaptic membrane.
Why do nerve impulses travel in one direction across a synapse?
Nerve impulses travel only in one direction across a synapse because receptorsfor the neurotransmitter are most numerous on the postsynaptic (receiving)cell.

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