Long-term potentiation and long-term depression are thought to be cellular mechanisms contributing to learning and memory. Although the physiological phenomena have been well characterized, little consensus of their underlying molecular mechanisms has emerged. One reason for this may be the under-appreciated complexity of the signaling pathways that can arise if key signaling molecules are discretely localized within the synapse. Recent findings suggest an unanticipated degree of structural organization at the synapse, and improved methods in cellular imaging of living tissue have provided much-needed information about the intracellular dynamics of Ca(2+), thought to be critical for both LTP and LTD. In this review, we briefly summarize some of these developments, and show that a more complete understanding of cellular signaling depends on the successful integration of traditional biochemistry and molecular biology with the spatial and temporal details of synaptic ultrastructure. Biophysically realistic computer simulations can have an important role in bridging these disciplines.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Periodicals, Inc.