Ultrastructure of Synapses in the Waking State

A Laboratory Report on Recent Advances
  • K. Akert
  • R. B. Livingston
  • H. Moor
  • P. Streit
Conference paper
Part of the Journal of Neural Transmission book series (NEURAL SUPPL, volume 11)


Membrane faces of synapses from pigeon optic tectum as well as from rat and cat spinal cord have been examined in a large number of freezeetched replicas. The data have been compared with those of conventional thin section electronmicroscopy. Some progress has been made to analyse the main features of presynaptic membranes morphometrically.

The presynaptic membrane (active site) is characterized according to Pfenninger et al. (1972) by a curving indentation (“lifting”) toward the presynaptic cytoplasm, and, furthermore, by the presence of 200 Å micropits (as seen from outside) and protuberances or craters (as seen from the inside), respectively. These membrane modulations are specific for the presynaptic area and their sites correspond closely to the holes in the presynaptic vesicular grid.

The concept of a dynamic membrane organization (Streit et al., 1972) stems from the fact that the “lifting” of the membrane as well as the “wrinkling” and the relative number of open protuberances (representing vesicular attachment sites) is strongly enhanced in the waking as compared with the anaesthetized state. Thus, the “textbook appearance” of the synapse with rectilinear and parallel synaptic membranes probably represents an unphysiological state, inasmuch as most of the preparations have been made with anaesthetized material. The dynamism of the presynaptic membrane as revealed by morphometric analysis of unanaesthetized preparations provides further support to the vesicle hypothesis of transmitter release.

The postsynaptic membrane is characterized by a sharply circumscribed aggregation of 80–130 Å particles (Sandri et al., 1972) which are characteristic of the outer membrane leaflet. The inner leaflet contains particles of similar size (but perhaps different biochemical composition) which are more diffusely scattered over the membrane. The particle aggregations in the postsynaptic plasmalemma appear to correspond to regions of subsynaptic membrane specialization in terms of differential sensitivity to specific transmitter molecules.


Synaptic Vesicle Membrane Modulation Postsynaptic Membrane Synaptic Membrane Presynaptic Membrane 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Akert
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • R. B. Livingston
    • 1
    • 3
  • H. Moor
    • 1
  • P. Streit
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of General Botany, Federal Institute of TechnologyBrain Research Institute of the University of Zürich and Laboratory of ElectronmicroscopyZürichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute for Brain ResearchUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Neurosciences DepartmentUniversity of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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