As Virginia Hughes noted in a recent piece for National Geographic’s Phenomena blog, the most common depiction of a synapse (that communicating junction between two neurons) is pretty simple:

External image

Signal molecules leave one neuron from that bulby thing, float across a gap, and are picked up by receptors on the other neuron. In this way, information is transmitted from cell to cell … and thinking is possible.

But thanks to a bunch of German scientists - we now have a much more complete and accurate picture. They’ve created the first scientifically accurate 3D model of a synaptic bouton (that bulby bit) complete with every protein and cytoskeletal element.

This effort has been made possible only by a collaboration of specialists in electron microscopy, super-resolution light microscopy (STED), mass spectrometry, and quantitative biochemistry.

says the press release. The model reveals a whole world of neuroscience waiting to be explored. Exciting stuff!

You can access the full video of their 3D model here.

Credit: Benjamin G. Wilhelm, Sunit Mandad, Sven Truckenbrodt, Katharina Kröhnert, Christina Schäfer, Burkhard Rammner, Seong Joo Koo, Gala A. Claßen, Michael Krauss, Volker Haucke, Henning Urlaub, Silvio O. Rizzoli

Incredible and rare micrograph of a synapse 

Neuron cell body (purple) with numerous synapses (blue) magnified 80,000x under a scanning electron microscope.

Everone talks about synapses even though some seem to use it to sound cool without actually knowing what it is. So for those persons (and everyone willing to become a bit more educated), here’s a simple explanation.

Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. The synapse contains a small gap separating neurons. 

The synapse consists of:

a presynaptic ending that contains neurotransmitters, mitochondria and other cell organelles,

a postsynaptic ending that contains receptor sites for neurotransmitters,

a synaptic cleft or space between the presynaptic and postsynaptic endings.

At the synaptic terminal (the presynaptic ending), an electrical impulse will trigger the migration of vesicles containing neurotransmitters toward the presynaptic membrane. The vesicle membrane will fuse with the presynaptic membrane releasing the neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft. 

read more from Neurons Want Food 


Gary Carlson  
Medical and Biological Illustration

Osteoclasts remove excess bone by etching away at the bone surface. When they become overactive, osteoporosis may occur. [source]

Adipocytes, or fat cells, greatly increase in size over time as lipid droplets accumulate within the cytoplasm.  [source]

Schematic representation of neurotransmitters crossing between neurons showing the action of a drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease.[source]

Scientists Discover the Origin of a Giant Synapse

Humans and most mammals can determine the spatial origin of sounds with remarkable acuity. We use this ability all the time—crossing the street; locating an invisible ringing cell phone in a cluttered bedroom. To accomplish this small daily miracle, the brain has developed a circuit that’s rapid enough to detect the tiny lag that occurs between the moment the auditory information reaches one of our ears, and the moment it reaches the other. The mastermind of this circuit is the “Calyx of Held,” the largest known synapse in the brain. EPFL scientists have revealed the role that a certain protein plays in initiating the growth of these giant synapses.

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Poor Hellion (Julian Keller)…he has become another victim of the Terrigen Mists (a.k.a Inhuman Farts) that affects mutants. Though I am glad that the new normal-looking inhuman Synapse (Emily Guerrero) of the Avengers Unity Squad calls Medusa and the Inhumans (and I blame Black Bolt too) out on their dickery about releasing the terrigen mists into Earth and forcibly transforming some humans into Inhumans without consent as well as making mutants sick. 

- Uncanny Avengers v3 #6

Set to signal

The image above depicts a false-colored cross-section view of a synapse – the junction where signals pass from a neuron to another cell. The green-colored synaptic bouton (button) is a knoblike swelling at the end of a neuronal axon. It’s the megaphone, so to speak, through which a neuron talks to the rest of the world.

In this image, the bouton is surrounded by an insulating glial cell (speckled purple) that bumps up against a muscle fiber, the recipient of neuronal signals.

The thin, dark purple gap between the bouton and fiber is the synaptic cleft. Signal molecules are released by the bouton into this space and taken up by receptors on the receiving cell. Inside the bouton itself are mitochondria (dark blue circles), the power plants of cells, and vesicles (smaller, green circles) filled with yellow neurotransmitters.

The green vesicles take on particular celebratory note this week. The Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology was awarded yesterday to a trio of researchers – James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Sudhof – for their ground-breaking discoveries about the nature and functions of vesicles.

In citing their work, the Nobel Prize committee explained that the newly minted laureates had solved the mystery of how cells organize their transport system.

“Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules,” wrote the committee in their announcement. “For instance, insulin is manufactured and released into the blood and chemical signals called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another. These molecules are transported around the cell in small packages called vesicles. The three Nobel Laureates have discovered the molecular principles that govern how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time in the cell.”

You can read the full Nobel Prize release here.