This Short Review Series in Neurochemistry and the Neurosciences emerged from the 5th Special Conference of the International Society for Neurochemistry (ISN) held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from September 12–15, 2012. The Special Conference dealt with a rapidly moving subject at the forefront of the Neurosciences: ‘Synapses and dendritic spines in Health and Disease’. Understanding the complexity of synapse structure and function, and in particular, how these two properties link up to regulate circuit function and behavior, constitute key issues in current synaptic biology. Moreover, these structure-function studies are leading to extraordinary advances in our understanding of neurological and psychiatric diseases.
Following up closely on the meeting, Professors Jörg Schulz and Marcus Rattray, Editors of the Journal of Neurochemistry, and Managing Editor Dr. Laura Hausmann, who attended the meeting, solicited a series of mini-reviews outlining current research by some of the invited speakers. The selected subjects reflect the main thrust of the topics covered at the conference, ranging from synaptic vesicle dynamics to dendritic spine formation, maintenance and dysfunction and state-of-the-art microscopy methods to image these subcellular entities. The contributions presented in this Short Reviews Series highlight novel techniques for unravelling structure, dynamics, and mechanisms operating at the synapse together with their (patho-)physiological implications and address future challenges in the field.
Synaptic vesicle dynamics and (trans-)synaptic regulation, co-authored by the Company of Biologists Young Investigator Awardee Jesica Raingo, of the University of La Plata, and ChiHye Chung, Konkuk University, describes various facets of pre-synaptic vesicle dynamics and trans-synaptic regulation. Tomoaki Shirao, Neurobiology & Behavior, Gunma University, and Christian González-Billault, University of Santiago, summarize cytoskeletal regulation of dendritic spine formation. Nanoscopic imaging (STED microscopy) developed by Prof. Stefan Hell's group at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen is summarized by Christian Eggeling, Katrin Willig, and Francisco Barrantes. STED microscopy enables subdiffractional imaging of membrane dynamics, synapses or dendritic spines, opening new avenues and unique opportunities for future structural and functional analysis of these important structures. A related methodological review was contributed by Daniel Gitler, Kevin Staras, and Dan Mikulincer on Fluorescence Recovery after Photobleaching (FRAP).
The pathology of the synapse is also analyzed in various reviews. Jean-Noël Octave, Catholic University of Louvain, Journal of Neurochemistry's former Editor-in-Chief Tony Turner, University of Leeds, and their co-authors describe the implications of APP in Alzheimer disease. Development and maintenance of the synapse and implications for psychiatric disorders are reviewed by Peter Penzes, Northwestern University, Andrés Buonanno, NIH in Bethesda, and Carlo Sala from the CNR Institute of Neuroscience in Milan. All in all, the mini-reviews span considerable width and depth of cutting-edge subjects in current synaptic biology and synaptic diseases, the so-called synaptopathies.