Molecular organization of excitatory chemical synapses in the mammalian brain

Naturwissenschaften. 2000 Dec;87(12):513-23. doi: 10.1007/s001140050770.


Chemical synapses are highly specialized cell-cell junctions designed for efficient signaling between nerve cells. Distinct cytoskeletal matrices are assembled at either side of the synaptic junction. The presynaptic cytomatrix at the active zone (CAZ) defines and organizes the site of neurotransmitter release from presynaptic nerve terminals. The postsynaptic density (PSD) tethers neurotransmitter receptors and the postsynaptic signal transduction machinery. Recent progress in the identification and characterization of novel CAZ and PSD components has revealed new insights into the molecular organization and assembly mechanisms of the synaptic neurotransmission apparatus. On the presynaptic side, Bassoon and Piccolo, two related giant proteins, are crucially involved in scaffolding the CAZ. On the postsynaptic side, two families of multidomain adaptor proteins, the MAGuKs (membrane-associated guanylate kinase homologs) and the ProSAP (proline-rich synapse-associated protein, also termed Shank) family members are thought to be major organizing molecules of the PSD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Mammals
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter