Timing of synaptic transmission

Annu Rev Physiol. 1999;61:521-42. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.61.1.521.


Many behaviors require rapid and precisely timed synaptic transmission. These include the determination of a sound's direction by detecting small interaural time differences and visual processing, which relies on synchronous activation of large populations of neurons. In addition, throughout the brain, concerted firing is required by Hebbian learning mechanisms, and local circuits are recruited rapidly by fast synaptic transmission. To achieve speed and precision, synapses must optimize the many steps between the firing of a presynaptic cell and the response of its postsynaptic targets. Until recently, the behavior of mammalian synapses at physiological temperatures was primarily extrapolated from studies at room temperature or from the properties of invertebrate synapses. Recent studies have revealed some of the specializations that make synapses fast and precise in the mammalian central nervous system at physiological temperatures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Calcium