Invaginating structures at chemical synapses in the mammalian nervous system exist in presynaptic axon terminals, postsynaptic spines or dendrites, and glial processes. These invaginating structures can be divided into three categories. The first category includes slender protrusions invaginating into axonal terminals, postsynaptic spines, or glial processes. Best known examples of this category are spinules extending from postsynaptic spines into presynaptic terminals in forebrain synapses. Another example of this category are protrusions from inhibitory presynaptic terminals invaginating into postsynaptic neuronal somas. Regardless of the direction and location, the invaginating structures of the first category do not have synaptic active zones within the invagination. The second category includes postsynaptic spines invaginating into presynaptic terminals, whereas the third category includes presynaptic terminals invaginating into postsynaptic spines or dendrites. Unlike the first category, the second and third categories have active zones within the invagination. An example of the second category are mossy terminal synapses of the hippocampal CA3 region, in which enlarged spine-like structures invaginate partly or entirely into mossy terminals. An example of the third category is the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) where substantial invaginations of the presynaptic terminals invaginate into the muscle fibers. In the retina, rod and cone synapses have invaginating processes from horizontal and bipolar cells. Because horizontal cells act both as post and presynaptic structures, their invaginating processes represent both the second and third category. These invaginating structures likely play broad yet specialized roles in modulating neuronal cell signaling.
Keywords: CA3; cannabinoid; ephaptic; horizontal cell; indented; neuromuscular; retina; spinule.