Physiology, Synapse

In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.


The human brain is made up of approximately 86 billion neurons that “talk” to each other using a combination of electrical and chemical (electrochemical) signals.

The places where neurons connect and communicate with each other are called synapses. Each neuron has anywhere between a few to hundreds of thousands of synaptic connections, and these connections can be with itself, neighboring neurons, or neurons in other regions of the brain. A synapse is made up of a presynaptic and postsynaptic terminal.

The presynaptic terminal is at the end of an axon and is the place where the electrical signal (the action potential) is converted into a chemical signal (neurotransmitter release). The postsynaptic terminal membrane is less than 50 nanometers away and contains specialized receptors. The neurotransmitter rapidly (in microseconds) diffuses across the synaptic cleft and binds to specific receptors.

The type of neurotransmitter released from the presynaptic terminal and the specific receptors present on the corresponding postsynaptic terminal is critical in determining the quality and intensity of information transmitted by neurons. The postsynaptic neuron integrates all the signals it receives to determine what it does next, for example, to fire an action potential of its own or not.

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