Molecular Organization and Assembly of the Presynaptic Active Zone of Neurotransmitter Release

  • Anna FejtovaEmail author
  • Eckart D. Gundelfinger
Part of the Results and Problems in Cell Differentiation book series (RESULTS, volume 43)


At chemical synapses, neurotransmitter is released at a restricted region of the presynaptic plasma membrane, called the active zone. At the active zone, a matrix of proteins is assembled, which is termed the presynaptic grid or cytomatrix at the active zone (CAZ). Components of the CAZ are thought to localize and organize the synaptic vesicle cycle, a series of membrane trafficking events underlying regulated neurotransmitter exocytosis. This review is focused on a set of specific proteins involved in the structural and functional organization of the CAZ. These include the multi-domain Rab3-effector proteins RIM1α and RIM2α; Bassoon and Piccolo, two multi-domain CAZ scaffolding proteins of enormous size; as well as members of the CAST/ERC family of CAZ-specific structural proteins. Studies on ribbon synapses of retinal photoreceptor cells have fostered understanding the molecular design of the CAZ. In addition, the analysis of the delivery pathways for Bassoon and Piccolo to presynaptic sites during development has produced new insights into assembly mechanisms of brain synapses during development. Based on these studies, the active zone transport vesicle hypothesis was formulated, which postulates that active zones, at least in part, are pre-assembled in neuronal cell bodies and transported as so-called Piccolo-Bassoon transport vesicles (PTVs) to sites of synaptogenesis. Several PTVs can fuse on demand with the presynaptic membrane to rapidly form an active zone.


Active Zone Molecular Organization Ribbon Synapse Synaptic Ribbon Presynaptic Active Zone 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


C1 domain

conserved domain 1 of protein kinase C

C2 domain

conserved domain 2 of protein kinase C


CAZ-associated structural protein


cytomatrix assembled at the active zone


C-terminal binding protein (or connected to Bassoon and Piccolo)




ELKS-Rab6-interacting molecule-CAST


protein interacting with G-protein-coupled receptor kinases

PBH domain

Piccolo-Bassoon homology domain


PSD-95-Discs large-ZO-1 domain


postsynaptic density


Piccolo-Bassoon transport vesicle


Rab3-interacting molecule


RIM-binding protein


synaptic vesicle


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Work on active zone function and assembly in the authors' lab is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the European Commission (SynScaff), the Swiss National Fonds, the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie and the Max Planck Prize awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz Institute for NeurobiologyDepartment of Neurochemistry and Molecular BiologyMagdeburgGermany

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