Methods for the study of synaptic receptor functional properties

Methods Mol Biol. 2014;1183:117-41. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1096-0_7.


The generation of a synaptic current at the postsynaptic element (PSCs) is the result of a dynamic sequence of events including the release of the neurotransmitter, its diffusion in the synaptic cleft, and the activation of neurotransmitter receptors located at the postsynaptic side. It is widely accepted that the amplitude and the duration of PSCs are largely dictated by the gating properties of postsynaptic receptors. However, the knowledge of the properties of postsynaptic receptors is mostly derived from steady-state analysis, a condition that is substantially different from the non-equilibrium activation of synaptic receptors imposed by submillisecond neurotransmitter exposures. Given the technical limitations to reproduce the brief "synaptic-like" agonist pulse durations, the functioning of postsynaptic receptors during synaptic transmission is not fully elucidated and the "on-demand" postsynaptic activation of synapses cannot be easily achieved. In this chapter, we review the diverse approaches to study receptor gating at times relevant for synaptic transmission and novel optical/optogenetic techniques for controlling synaptic activity at the postsynaptic level. In addition, we emphasize the role of non-equilibrium in unmasking specific features of synaptic receptor gating and the recent advances in photonics for the light-control of neuronal activity at the single-receptor level.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology / instrumentation
  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Optical Devices
  • Perfusion / instrumentation
  • Perfusion / methods
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter