Measurement and characteristics of neurotransmitter receptor surface trafficking (Review)

Mol Membr Biol. 2008 May;25(4):344-52. doi: 10.1080/09687680801958364.


Neurotransmitter receptor trafficking in and out synapses has emerged as a key process to regulate synaptic transmission during synaptic development and plasticity both at excitatory and inhibitory synapses. Lateral diffusion of surface neurotransmitter receptors has recently emerged as a key pathway to regulate receptor trafficking to and from synapses. Receptors enter and exit synapses mainly by lateral diffusion within the plane of the membrane while their retrieval and addition from and to the plasma membrane by endo and exocytotic processes occur largely at extrasynaptic sites. As a consequence, regulation of receptor surface trafficking is likely to be a major process to regulate receptor numbers at synapses. Measurement of receptor surface diffusion has required the development of new experimental approaches to specifically label and track surface receptor with appropriate time- and space-resolutions. In this review, we first discuss the approaches that have been used to measure receptor surface diffusion, such as the ensemble approach that measure average diffusion of a defined surface receptor population and the single molecule/particle approaches that measure the surface diffusion of isolated receptors. To date, surface diffusion has been described for a variety of neurotransmitter receptors that exhibit common as well as specific features. These points are discussed in a comparative manner and emerging rules of surface trafficking as well as potential interplay between receptor classes are further commented. Because our knowledge on neurotransmitter receptor surface diffusion is fairly recent, open questions and experimental challenges facing the field are highlighted throughout the review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Diffusion
  • Protein Transport
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism*
  • Research Design


  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter