Molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release

Muscle Nerve. 2001 May;24(5):581-601. doi: 10.1002/mus.1044.


The release of neurotransmitter from neurons represents one of the pivotal events in synaptic transmission. Neurotransmitters are released from synaptic vesicles in presynaptic neurons in response to neural activity, diffuse across the synaptic cleft, and bind specific receptors in order to bring about changes in postsynaptic neurons. Some of the molecular processes that govern neurotransmitter release are now becoming better understood. The steps involved can be broken down into two partially overlapping presynaptic cycles, the neurotransmitter cycle and the synaptic vesicle cycle. The neurotransmitter cycle involves transmitter biosynthesis, storage, reuptake, and degradation. The synaptic vesicle cycle involves targeting to the nerve terminal, docking, fusion, endocytosis, and recycling. Biochemical and structural studies have yielded important insight into our understanding of each of these two cycles. Further, both pharmacological and genetic interference with either of these cycles results in profound alterations in synaptic transmission and behavior, demonstrating the crucial role of neurotransmitter release.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents