Intercellular communication in the brain: wiring versus volume transmission

Neuroscience. 1995 Dec;69(3):711-26. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(95)00308-6.


During the past two decades several revisions of the concepts underlying interneuronal communication in the central nervous system have been advanced. We propose here to classify communicational phenomena between cells of the central neural tissue under two general frames: "wiring" and "volume" transmission. "Wiring" transmission is defined as intercellular communication occurring through a well-defined connecting structure. Thus, wiring transmission is characterized by the presence of physically identifiable communication channels within the neuronal and/or glial cell network. It includes synaptic transmission but also other types of intercellular communication through a connecting structure (e.g., gap junctions). "Volume" transmission is characterized by signal diffusion in a three-dimensional fashion within the brain extracellular fluid. Thus, multiple, structurally often not well characterized extracellular pathways connect intercommunicating cells. Volume transmission includes short- (but larger than synaptic cleft, i.e. about 20 nm) and long-distance diffusion of signals through the extracellular and cerebrospinal fluid. It must be underlined that the definitions of wiring and volume transmission focus on the modality of transmission and are neutral with respect to the source and target of the transmission, as well as type of informational substance transmitted. Therefore, any cell present in the neural tissue (neurons, astroglia, microglia, ependyma, tanycytes, etc.) can be a source or a target of wiring and volume transmission. In this paper we discuss the basic definitions and some distinctive characteristics of the two types of transmission. In addition, we review the evidence for different types of intercellular communication besides synaptic transmission in the central nervous system during phylogeny, and in vertebrates in physiological and pathological conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cell Communication*
  • Diffusion
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vertebrates / physiology