Synaptic junctions are generated by adhesion proteins that bridge the synaptic cleft to firmly anchor pre- and postsynaptic membranes. Several cell adhesion molecule (CAM) families localize to synapses, but it is not yet completely understood how each synaptic CAM family contributes to synapse formation and/or structure, and whether or how smaller groups of CAMs serve as minimal, functionally cooperative adhesive units upon which structure is based. Synapse structure and function evolve over the course of development, and in mature animals, synapses are composed of a greater number of proteins, surrounded by a stabilizing extracellular matrix, and often contacted by astrocytic processes. Thus, in mature networks undergoing plasticity, persistent changes in synapse strength, morphology, or number must be accompanied by selective and regulated remodeling of the neuropil. Recent work indicates that regulated, extracellular proteolysis may be essential for this, and rather than simply acting permissively to enable synapse plasticity, is more likely playing a proactive role in driving coordinated synaptic structural and functional modifications that underlie persistent changes in network activity.
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