Structure suggests function: The case for synaptic ribbons as exocytotic nanomachines

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Synaptic ribbons, the organelles identified in electron micrographs of the sensory synapses involved in vision, hearing, and balance, have long been hypothesized to play an important role in regulating presynaptic function because they associate with synaptic vesicles at the active zone. Their physiology and molecular composition have, however, remained largely unknown. Recently, a series of elegant studies spurred by technical innovation have finally begun to shed light on the ultrastructure and function of ribbon synapses. Electrical capacitance measurements have provided sub-millisecond resolution of exocytosis, evanescent-wave microscopy has filmed the fusion of single 30 nm synaptic vesicles, electron tomography has revealed the 3D architecture of the synapse, and molecular cloning has begun to identify the proteins that make up ribbons. These results are consistent with the ribbon serving as a vesicle "conveyor belt" to resupply the active zone, and with the suggestion that ribbon and conventional chemical synapses have much in common.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)831-840
Number of pages10
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2001


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Developmental Biology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Plant Science

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