Synapses play a central role for the processing of information in the brain and have been analyzed in countless biochemical, electrophysiological, imaging, and computational studies. The functionality and plasticity of synapses are nevertheless still difficult to predict, and conflicting hypotheses have been proposed for many synaptic processes. In this review, we argue that the cause of these problems is a lack of understanding of the spatiotemporal dynamics of key synaptic components. Fortunately, a number of emerging imaging approaches, going beyond super-resolution, should be able to provide required protein positions in space at different points in time. Mathematical models can then integrate the resulting information to allow the prediction of the spatiotemporal dynamics. We argue that these models, to deal with the complexity of synaptic processes, need to be designed in a sufficiently abstract way. Taken together, we suggest that a well-designed combination of imaging and modelling approaches will result in a far more complete understanding of synaptic function than currently possible.
Keywords: cryo-tomography; imaging; modeling; quantification; super-resolution; synapse; synaptic vesicle.