Science
Nerves

What is a synapse?

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2009-08-01 18:16:38

There are several types of synapses in the body. The most

commonly discussed type is the chemical synapse, but other

types of synapses include electrical synapses and

immunological synapses. Because chemical synapses are the

most commonly discussed synapses in general, that's probably what

this question is referring to.

A chemical synapse is a small gap, or commonly referred to as a

connection, between two cells that allows for the first cell (the

presynaptic cell) to communicate with the second cell (the

postsynaptic cell) through a chemical signal. These chemical

signals are called neurotransmitters, and once they are

released by the presynaptic cell, they act on the postsynaptic cell

through specialized protein molecules called neurotransmitter

receptors.

The actions triggered by a neurotransmitter binding its receptor

on the postsynaptic cell are highly varied. They vary according to

the type, quantity, and frequency of neurotransmitter release, the

specific receptor involved, the type of cell that is receiving the

neurotransmitter signal, among other things. For example, a

neurotransmitter called glutamate typically causes activation of

the postsynaptic cell, while a neurotransmitter called GABA

typically inhibits postsynaptic cells. Likewise, if the

postsynaptic cell belongs to a gland, then activity in that cell

may promote secretion, while inhibition may hinder secretion. If

the postsynaptic cell is a muscle fiber, then activation triggers

muscle contraction, while inhibition causes relaxation.

A synapse is a connection which allows for the transmission of

nerve impulses. Synapses can be found at the points where nerve

cells meet other nerve cells, and where nerve cells interface with

glandular and muscular cells. In all cases, this connection allows

for the one-way movement of data. The human body contains trillions

of synapses, and at any given time, huge numbers of these

connections are active.


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