From the stochasticity of molecular processes to the variability of synaptic transmission

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011 Jun 20;12(7):375-87. doi: 10.1038/nrn3025.


The variability of the postsynaptic response following a single action potential arises from two sources: the neurotransmitter release is probabilistic, and the postsynaptic response to neurotransmitter release has variable timing and amplitude. At individual synapses, the number of molecules of a given type that are involved in these processes is small enough that the stochastic (random) properties of molecular events cannot be neglected. How the stochasticity of molecular processes contributes to the variability of synaptic transmission, its sensitivity and its robustness to molecular fluctuations has important implications for our understanding of the mechanistic basis of synaptic transmission and of synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Stochastic Processes*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics*
  • Time Factors


  • Calcium Channels
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Cell Surface