The concentration of calcium ions in presynaptic terminals regulates transmitter release, but underlying mechanisms have remained unclear. Here we review recent studies that shed new light on this issue. Fast-freezing electron microscopy and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy studies reveal complex calcium-dependent vesicle movements including docking on a millisecond time scale. Recordings from so-called 'simple synapses' indicate that calcium not only triggers exocytosis, but also modifies synaptic strength by controlling a final, rapid vesicle maturation step before release. Molecular studies identify several calcium-sensitive domains on Munc13 and on synaptotagmin-1 that are likely involved in bringing the vesicular and plasma membranes closer together in response to calcium elevation. Together, these results suggest that calcium-dependent vesicle docking occurs in a wide range of time domains and plays a crucial role in several phenomena including synaptic facilitation, post-tetanic potentiation, and neuromodulator-induced potentiation.
Keywords: SNARE proteins; active zone; short-term synaptic plasticity; synaptic vesicles; synaptotagmin; vesicle docking.
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