The Structure of Human Neuromuscular Junctions: Some Unanswered Molecular Questions

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Oct 19;18(10):2183. doi: 10.3390/ijms18102183.


The commands that control animal movement are transmitted from motor neurons to their target muscle cells at the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). The NMJs contain many protein species whose role in transmission depends not only on their inherent properties, but also on how they are distributed within the complex structure of the motor nerve terminal and the postsynaptic muscle membrane. These molecules mediate evoked chemical transmitter release from the nerve and the action of that transmitter on the muscle. Human NMJs are among the smallest known and release the smallest number of transmitter "quanta". By contrast, they have the most deeply infolded postsynaptic membranes, which help to amplify transmitter action. The same structural features that distinguish human NMJs make them particularly susceptible to pathological processes. While much has been learned about the molecules which mediate transmitter release and action, little is known about the molecular processes that control the growth of the cellular and subcellular components of the NMJ so as to give rise to its mature form. A major challenge for molecular biologists is to understand the molecular basis for the development and maintenance of functionally important aspects of NMJ structure, and thereby to point to new directions for treatment of diseases in which neuromuscular transmission is impaired.

Keywords: disease; human; mouse; neuromuscular junction; neuromuscular transmission; structure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Neuromuscular Junction / genetics
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology
  • Neuromuscular Junction / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission*