Synapses, properties & Transmission


• Definition: it is the site of functional contact b/w two neurons at which an electric impulse is transmitted from one neuron to another.

Types of synapses- on the basis of site of contact
1. Axodendritic synapses (most common type) 2. Axosomatic synapses 3. Dendrodenritic synapses 4. axosaxonic synapses

Types of synapses- on the basis of method of signal transmission
Chemical synapses: • Most common type • Signal transmission is delayed for about 0.5 msec in these synapses. Electrical synapses (nexus): • Less common • Flow of ions from one neuron to another via gap junctions. • Signal transmission is nearly instantaneous.

Anatomy of a typical synapse (synaptic morphology)

• Axon terminals • Pre-synaptic membrane • Post-synaptic membrane • Synaptic cleft (20-30nm wide) • Synaptic vesicles.

Events occurring at a chemical synapse during signal transmission (Synaptic Transmission Mechanism)

• Depending on type of neurotransmitter & type of change in permeability of postsynaptic membrane, post-synaptic neuron is either excited or inhibited. • Neuro-transmitter binds with receptor on post-synaptic membrane  opening of ion channels  localized change in membrane potential  post-synaptic membrane potential (PSP)  2 types  Excitatory (EPSP), Inhibitory (IPSP).

• Resembles EPP (end plate potential). There is localized hypo-polarization due to Na+ influx. • Resting potential of cell body of neuron is -65mV. When EPSP is produced  hypo-polarization  potential becomes less negative  reach threshold of excitation (-45mV)  ACTION POTENTIAL in cell body.

Purpose of EPSP:
• To bring potential of membrane to threshold (-45mV) • It is graded like EPP (directly proportional to amount of neurotransmitter released).

• Produced when post-synaptic neuron is inhibited. • Neuro-transmitter is of inhibitory type (GABA. Glycine) • It binds with receptors on postsynaptic membrane  change in permeability of membrane for K+ or Cl- (there is opening of K+ or Clchannels  efflux of K+  cell becomes more negative  hyperpolarization / IPSP. • Opening of Cl- channels  extracellular Cl- moves into the cell  more negative  hyperpolarization / IPSP.

Effect of IPSP:
• Because of IPSP, resting potential which is -65mV, becomes -70 to -75mV  Post-synaptic neuron is inhibited  POST-SYNAPTIC INHIBITION. PRE-STNAPTIC INHIBITION: Synaptic knob has additional synapse with other nerve terminals  release of inhibitory neurotransmitter from additional synapse synaptic knob is inhibited  no further transmission from synapse now to post-synaptic neuron.

Magnitude Propagation & Duration Refractory period All or none law Summation

EPSP or IPSP or Graded potential

Action Potential

Nil; it remains localized Self propagating ( up ( up to 20 msec) to 2 msec) absent Not obeyed. It is graded. Present present obeyed absent Absent. Size is constant Na+ Influx , then K+ efflux

Decrement (decline of present size with distance) Increased permeability To Na+ & K+ at one to ions time but Na+ influx >

Properties of Synaptic Transmission
• DALE’S LAW: At a given synapse, only 1 type of neurotransmitter is released, it may be excitatory or inhibitory. Later on it was found that in certain cases  release of additional substances at a given synapse e.g., in noradrenergic synapses: along with norepinephrine, some dopamine, neuropeptide Y & prostaglandins are also released.

• LAW OF FORWARD CONDUCTION: Through synapses, impulses are conducted always from pre-synaptic to post synaptic neuron, never in backward direction. (NO REVERSE GEAR!!)

• SYNAPTIC DELAY At a synapse, there is delay due to time taken in events during synaptic transmission. Through each synapse, there is delay of 0.5 milli seconds.

• FATIGUE OF SYNAPTIC TRANSMISSION If impulses are conducted through a synapse repeatedly  fatigue due to exhaustion of stores or progressive inactivation of receptors on post-synaptic membrane. • Significance of fatigue??
– Fatigue of synaptic transmission is protective in nature  termination of epileptic fit.

• SUMMATION: Adding up of effects of stimuli particularly if stimuli are subthreshold. On a single motor neuron, thousands of synaptic knobs terminate to form synapses. About 80% of these synapses are on dendrites, remaining on cell body & few on axons. So, single impulse coming to motor neuron through a synapse, can’t excite a motor neuron & there must be summation of effects of stimuli.

TEMPORAL • Impulses transmit through 1 or few synaptic knobs repeatedly  effects on post-synaptic neurons are added  stimulation. • Second stimulus must fall when effect of 1st one is still there.

SPATIAL • Impulses are conducted along a number of synapses simultaneously  effects on postsynaptic neuron are added  excitation.

• (Rest is best for test!) • If impulses are conducted through a synapse rapidly  then rest is given to synapse  then again impulses are conducted  response of post-synaptic neuron is increased.
• Mechanism: Calcium ions enter in synaptic knob in each transmission, before fatigue occurs  increase no. of calcium accumulate in knob  more neurotransmitter released  more EPSP.


Increase excitability
• Caffeine (cerebral stimulant) • Theophylline • Strychnine / Kuchla • Decreased calcium (tetany)

Decrease excitability
• Anesthetics • Hypoxia • Increased calcium (stabilize the membrane)

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