Neurotransmitters are released by synaptic vesicle exocytosis at the active zone of a presynaptic nerve terminal. In this review, I discuss the molecular composition and function of the active zone. Active zones are composed of an evolutionarily conserved protein complex containing as core constituents RIM, Munc13, RIM-BP, α-liprin, and ELKS proteins. This complex docks and primes synaptic vesicles for exocytosis, recruits Ca(2+) channels to the site of exocytosis, and positions the active zone exactly opposite to postsynaptic specializations via transsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules. Moreover, this complex mediates short- and long-term plasticity in response to bursts of action potentials, thus critically contributing to the computational power of a synapse.
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