Towards an Understanding of Synapse Formation

Neuron. 2018 Oct 24;100(2):276-293. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.09.040.


Synapses are intercellular junctions specialized for fast, point-to-point information transfer from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic cell. At a synapse, a presynaptic terminal secretes neurotransmitters via a canonical release machinery, while a postsynaptic specialization senses neurotransmitters via diverse receptors. Synaptic junctions are likely organized by trans-synaptic cell-adhesion molecules (CAMs) that bidirectionally orchestrate synapse formation, restructuring, and elimination. Many candidate synaptic CAMs were described, but which CAMs are central actors and which are bystanders remains unclear. Moreover, multiple genes encoding synaptic CAMs were linked to neuropsychiatric disorders, but the mechanisms involved are unresolved. Here, I propose that engagement of multifarious synaptic CAMs produces parallel trans-synaptic signals that mediate the establishment, organization, and plasticity of synapses, thereby controlling information processing by neural circuits. Among others, this hypothesis implies that synapse formation can be understood in terms of inter- and intracellular signaling, and that neuropsychiatric disorders involve an impairment in such signaling.

Keywords: BAIs; cell-adhesion molecules; cerebellins; latrophilins; neurexins; neuroligins; synapse; synaptic plasticity; synaptogenesis; teneurins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules