Vesicle dynamics: how synaptic proteins regulate different modes of neurotransmission



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 128, Issue 2, 340, Article first published online: 10 December 2013

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Jesica Raingo, Multidisciplinary Institute of Cell Biology (IMBICE), CIC-PBA CONICET, Argentina. E-mails:;


Central synapses operate neurotransmission in several modes: synchronous/fast neurotransmission (neurotransmitters release is tightly coupled to action potentials and fast), asynchronous neurotransmission (neurotransmitter release is slower and longer lasting), and spontaneous neurotransmission (where small amounts of neurotransmitter are released without being evoked by an action potential). A substantial body of evidence from the past two decades suggests that seemingly identical synaptic vesicles possess distinct propensities to fuse, thus selectively serving different modes of neurotransmission. In efforts to better understand the mechanism(s) underlying the different modes of synaptic transmission, many research groups found that synaptic vesicles used in different modes of neurotransmission differ by a number of synaptic proteins. Synchronous transmission with higher temporal fidelity to stimulation seems to require synaptotagmin 1 and complexin for its Ca2+ sensitivity, RIM proteins for closer location of synaptic vesicles (SV) to the voltage operated calcium channels (VGCC), and dynamin for SV retrieval. Asynchronous release does not seem to require functional synaptotagmin 1 as a calcium sensor or complexins, but the activity of dynamin is indispensible for its maintenance. On the other hand, the control of spontaneous neurotransmission remains less clear as deleting a number of essential synaptic proteins does not abolish this type of synaptic vesicle fusion. VGCC distance from the SV seems to have little control on spontaneous transmission, while there is an involvement of functional synaptic proteins including synaptotagmins and complexin. Recently, presynaptic deficits have been proposed to contribute to a number of pathological conditions including cognitive and mental disorders. In this review, we evaluate recent advances in understanding the regulatory mechanisms of synaptic vesicle dynamics and in understanding how different molecular substrates maintain selective modes of neurotransmission. We also highlight the implications of these studies in understanding pathological conditions.