Neurons communicate via chemical transmitters which they store in the bubble-like synaptic vesicles and release as required. To be able to react reliably to stimulation, neurons must have a certain number of "acutely releasable" vesicles. With the help of a new method, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Gttingen have now discovered that neurons systematically recycle the protein components necessary for transmitter release and in this way guarantee the reliability of signal transmission in the brain. If this process is disrupted, the communication between the neurons quickly comes to a standstill and vital processes that rely on the rapid transmission of information, for example seeing or the instant identification of a sound source, become impossible to carry out. (Neuron, November 4, 2010)
Neurons transmit signals to each other via specialised contacts known as synapses. When a transmitting neuron is excited, it releases chemical transmitters that are discharged by tiny membrane-enclosed vesicles and then reach the recipient cell. The release of the transmitters is carried out through the fusion of the vesicles with the cell membrane - a process that requires the interaction of different protein components in the cell.
Before the transmitter vesicles can fuse with the neuronal membrane they must first be transformed into an active state. The corresponding biochemical process is referred to as priming. During this process, a structure known as a SNARE complex is constructed from protein components that are required for the rapid fusion of the vesicles with the cell membrane.
Headed by the Korean neuroscientist JeongSeop Rhee, a group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Gttingen have now developed a new method that can be used for the direct measurement of synaptic vesicle priming. The scientists made use of a method that, before now, could only be us
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