Fine structure of synaptogenesis in the vertebrate central nervous system

Synapse. 1989;3(3):255-85. doi: 10.1002/syn.890030312.


This article reviews studies of the formation of synaptic junctions in the vertebrate central nervous system. It is focused on electron microscopic investigations of synaptogenesis, although insights from other disciplines are interwoven where appropriate, as are findings from developing peripheral and invertebrate nervous systems. The first part of the review is concerned with the morphological maturation of synapses as described from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Next, epigenetic influences on synaptogenesis are examined, and later in the article the concept of epigenesis is integrated with that of hierarchy. It is suggested that the formation of synaptic junctions may take place as an ordered progression of epigenetically modulated events wherein each level of cellular affinity becomes subordinate to the one that follows. The ultimate determination of whether a synapse is maintained, modified or dissolved would be made by the changing molecular fabric of its junctional membranes. In closing, a hypothetical model of synaptogenesis is proposed, and an hierarchial order of events is associated with a speculative synaptogenic sequence. Key elements of this hypothesis are 1) epigenetic factors that facilitate generally appropriate interactions between neurites; 2) independent expression of surface specializations that contain sufficient information for establishing threshold recognition between interacting neurites; 3) exchange of molecular information that biases the course of subsequent junctional differentiation and ultimately results in 4) the stabilization of synaptic junctions into functional connectivity patterns.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / ultrastructure*
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Genotype
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Pituitary Hormones / physiology
  • Rats
  • Synapses / growth & development*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Membranes / physiology
  • Synaptic Membranes / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure


  • Pituitary Hormones