A critical aim in neuroscience is to obtain a comprehensive view of how regulated neurotransmission is achieved. Our current understanding of synapses relies mainly on data from electrophysiological recordings, imaging, and molecular biology. Based on these methodologies, proteins involved in a synaptic vesicle (SV) formation, mobility, and fusion at the active zone (AZ) membrane have been identified. In the last decade, electron tomography (ET) combined with a rapid freezing immobilization of neuronal samples opened a window for understanding the structural machinery with the highest spatial resolution in situ. ET provides significant insights into the molecular architecture of the AZ and the organelles within the presynaptic nerve terminal. The specialized sensory ribbon synapses exhibit a distinct architecture from neuronal synapses due to the presence of the electron-dense synaptic ribbon. However, both synapse types share the filamentous structures, also commonly termed as tethers that are proposed to contribute to different steps of SV recruitment and exocytosis. In this review, we discuss the emerging views on the role of filamentous structures in SV exocytosis gained from ultrastructural studies of excitatory, mainly central neuronal compared to ribbon-type synapses with a focus on inner hair cell (IHC) ribbon synapses. Moreover, we will speculate on the molecular entities that may be involved in filament formation and hence play a crucial role in the SV cycle.
Keywords: active zone; electron microscopy; electron tomography; exocytosis; membrane fusion; release machinery; ribbon synapses; synaptic vesicle pools; synaptic vesicle tethering; synaptic vesicles.