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The Neuromuscular Junction

The Neuromuscular Junction

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Published by: livianikita on Oct 15, 2013
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The Neuromuscular Junction (NMJ) is a specialized synapse that serves to transmitelectrical impulses (action potentials) from the motor neuron nerve terminal to the skeletalmuscle.
Basically, the NMJ allows for efficient and reliable communication between the motor neuron nerve and the muscles required for contraction and movement.
The primary chemicalmessenger in this synapse, which consists of the presynaptic region (containing the nerveterminal), the synaptic cleft and the postsynaptic surface, is acetylcholine.
These regions are
 
defined by the differential localization of specific proteins, which underlie their distinctanatomical features and their physiological roles. Now it
’s time to briefly sum up what goes on in the NMJ, as shown in the diagram above.
 1.
The action potential (or electrical impulse signal) reaches the nerve terminal in thepresynaptic region. The hallmark feature of the nerve terminal is that it contains thesynaptic vesicles
, along with the proteins that help vesicle function. These vesicles are alignednear their release site, called an active zone.2.
When action potentials reach the nerve terminal they activate calcium channels,
whichopen up and facilitate the influx of calcium into the presynaptic terminal, which in turncommences the process of vesicular release into the synaptic cleft.3.
The increase in intracellular calcium concentration triggers the fusion of the synapticvesicles with the nerve terminal membrane.
The mechanism of synaptic vesicle fusioninvolves conformational changes in multiple docking proteins both on the vesicle and the nerve
terminal’s plasma membrane.
 4.
Once fused with the nerve terminal membrane, the vesicle releases its contents into theextracellular space, also known as the synaptic cleft.
The chemical or neurotransmitters (inthis case, acetylcholine) released then bind to their corresponding receptors on the postsynapticsurface (also known as the motor end plate in the NMJ).5 & 6.
Acetylcholine binds to its receptors and opens ligand-gated Na+/K+ channels.
Thesestructures are designed to optimize cholinergic neurotransmission
in order to produce an endplate potential (EPP).
The EPP is simply the net synaptic depolarization caused by the releaseof acetylcholine triggered by the nerve action potential. The EPP is a function of the
miniatureendplate potential (MEPP) amplitude
, which
represents the depolarization of the postsynapticmembrane produced by the contents of a single vesicle
, and quantal content (number of transmitter vesicles released by a nerve terminal action potential. The EPP serves to open thevoltage-gated Na+ channels in the postsynaptic region, which in turn results in an action potential that triggers muscle fiber contraction.
These changes in the postsynaptic regionpotential result in muscle stimulation and contraction.
 7.
Acetylcholinesterase degrades acetylcholine so that it (choline) can be re-uptaked andrecycled to produce new acetylcholine molecules
. It’s activity terminates synaptic
transmission.
Sources:
 Hughes, Benjamin W., et. al. 2006. Molecular architecture of the neuromuscular junction.
 Muscle & Nerve
. 33
(4)
: 445-461. DOI 10.1002/mus.20440  Motor Systems: Control of Movement and Behavior. 2008. Availableat: http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/Class/IPHY3730/09motorsystems.html 

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