The structure and function of presynaptic endosomes

Exp Cell Res. 2015 Jul 15;335(2):172-9. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2015.04.017. Epub 2015 May 1.


The function of endosomes and of endosome-like structures in the presynaptic compartment is still controversial. This is in part due to the absence of a consensus on definitions and markers for these compartments. Synaptic endosomes are sometimes seen as stable organelles, permanently present in the synapse. Alternatively, they are seen as short-lived intermediates in synaptic vesicle recycling, arising from the endocytosis of large vesicles from the plasma membrane, or from homotypic fusion of small vesicles. In addition, the potential function of the endosome is largely unknown in the synapse. Some groups have proposed that the endosome is involved in the sorting of synaptic vesicle proteins, albeit others have produced data that deny this possibility. In this review, we present the existing evidence for synaptic endosomes, we discuss their potential functions, and we highlight frequent technical pitfalls in the analysis of this elusive compartment. We also sketch a roadmap to definitely determine the role of synaptic endosomes for the synaptic vesicle cycle. Finally, we propose a common definition of synaptic endosome-like structures.

Keywords: Endocytosis; Endosome; Presynapse; Protein degradation; Protein sorting; Synaptic vesicle recycling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocytosis
  • Endosomes / physiology*
  • Endosomes / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism