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Virtually all functions of the nervous system rely upon synapses, the sites of communication between neurons and between neurons and other cells. Synapses are complex structures, each one comprising hundreds of different types of molecules working in concert. They are organized by adhesive and scaffolding molecules that align presynaptic vesicular release sites, namely, active zones, with postsynaptic neurotransmitter receptors, thereby allowing rapid and reliable intercellular communication. Most synapses are relatively small, and acting alone exerts little effect on their postsynaptic partners. Some, however, are much larger and stronger, reliably driving the postsynaptic cell to its action potential threshold, acting essentially as electrical relays of excitation. These large synapses are among the best understood, and two of these are the subject of this review, namely, the vertebrate neuromuscular junction and the calyx of Held synapse in the mammalian auditory pathway of the brain stem. Both synapses undergo through a complex and well-coordinated maturation process, during which time the molecular elements and the biophysical properties of the secretory machinery are continuously adjusted to the synapse size and to the functional requirements. We here review the morphological and functional changes occurring during postnatal maturation, noting particular similarities and differences between these two large synapses.


Raquel Cano, Laura Torres-Benito, Rocío Tejero, Anca I Biea, Rocío Ruiz, William J Betz, Lucía Tabares. Structural and functional maturation of active zones in large synapses. Molecular neurobiology. 2013 Feb;47(1):209-19

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PMID: 22992975

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