04 June 2014

A model of synapse operation with the accuracy of a molecule

An incredibly complex model has been compiled, demonstrating 300 thousand protein molecules,
ensuring the functioning of a single synapse

DailyTechInfo based on WIRED materials:
Science Graphic of the Week: Incredible 3-D Map Shows 300,000 Molecules in a Single SynapseEveryone knows that the basis of the "gray matter" of the brain are neurons and synapses.

If neurons serve to store and process information, then synapses act as "conductors" through which signals pass from one neuron to another, just as electrical signals pass through metal conductors. The human brain has trillions of synapses that form our memory, due to the formation of which a person is able to accumulate experience and acquire skills. And recently, scientists have created a detailed three-dimensional model of a single synapse, having a molecular level of detail and numbering 300 thousand protein molecules involved in the functioning of the synapse itself.

The synapse is somewhat like two berths located on different banks of a river through which heavy traffic is carried out. Certain chemical compounds called neurotransmitters act as cargo transported along the "river" of the synapse. At the "berths" of the synapse, neurotransmitter molecules are packed into special protein shells and transported to the other side using complex biochemical processes. The synapse consists of about a thousand different proteins, and each type of protein is involved in performing certain signal transmission functions.

Scientists have conducted thorough studies of the synapse transport system, the results of which were published in one of the latest issues of the journal Science (Wilhelm et al., Composition of isolated synaptic boutons reveals the amounts of vesicle trafficking proteins – VM). Taking a synapse of nerve tissue from the rat brain as a sample, the scientists used many different methods to identify, locate and figure out the function of each type of protein. This led to the fact that the model they created has become incredibly complex, with an average of 300 thousand protein molecules of different types.

Then scientists tracked the process of transformation of molecules of some proteins into so-called synaptic vesicles, which are tiny containers filled with neurotransmitters. These bubbles, having reached the required location in the synapse, disintegrate, release neurotransmitter molecules outside and are reused to create new shipping containers.

In the above video, different types of proteins are highlighted in different colors. The animation representing the molecular model of the synapse begins with a close-up, which shows the end of the synapse, where the so-called active zone is highlighted in red, the zone where the processes of packaging and release of neurotransmitters occur. At about the 55th second, the perspective switches to the "interior" of the synapse, where you can see spherical synaptic bubbles and incredibly complex protein mechanisms that ensure the packaging, transportation and unpacking of containers containing neurotransmitters. But the most surprising thing is that the entire space presented on the model has dimensions of only 40 nanometers, which is 2500 times less than the thickness of an ordinary sheet of paper.

And in conclusion, I would like to advise you to turn on the full-screen HD mode when watching the video so that you can assess the complexity of the model and consider the entire structure of the synapse in the smallest detail.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru04.06.2014

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