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File:Synapse diag1.svg Activity at an axon terminal: Neuron A is transmitting a signal at the axon terminal to neuron B (receiving). Features: 1. Mitochondrion. 2. synaptic vesicle with neurotransmitters. 3. Autoreceptor. 4. Synapse with neurotransmitter released (serotonin). 5. Postsynaptic receptors activated by neurotransmitter (induction of a postsynaptic potential). 6. Calcium channel. 7. Exocytosis of a vesicle. 8. Recaptured neurotransmitter.

Axon terminals are distal terminations of the branches of an axon. An axon nerve fiber is a long, slender projection of a nerve cell, or neuron, that conducts electrical impulses (called "action potentials") away from the neuron's cell body, or soma, in order to transmit those impulses to other neurons.

Neurons are interconnected in complex arrangements, and use electrochemical signals and neurotransmitter chemicals to transmit impulses from one neuron to the next; axon terminals are separated from neighboring neurons by a small gap called a synapse, across which impulses are sent. The axon terminal, and the neuron to which it is attached, is sometimes referred to as the "presynaptic" neuron.

Nerve impulse release

File:BioDigital Exocytosis.jpg

Illustration of an axon releasing dopamine at the axon terminal (top).

Neurotransmitters are packaged into Synaptic vesicles that cluster beneath the axon terminal membrane on the presynaptic side of a synapse. The axal terminals are specialised to release the electrical impulse of the presynaptic cell.[1] The terminals release transmitter substances into a gap called the synaptic cleft between the terminals and the dendrites of the next neuron. The information is received by the dendrite receptors of the postsynaptic cell that are connected to it.[2] Neurons don't touch each other, but communicate across the synapse. [3]

The neurotransmitter molecule packages (vesicles) are created within the neuron, then travel down the axon to the distal axon terminal where they sit docked. Calcium ions then trigger a biochemical cascade which results in vesicles fusing with the presynaptic membrane and releasing their contents to the synaptic cleft within 180µsec of calcium entry.[4] Triggered by the binding of the calcium ions, the synaptic vesicle proteins begin to move apart, resulting in the creation of a fusion pore. The presence of the pore allows for the release of neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft.[5][6] The process occurring at the axon terminal is exocytosis, which a cell uses to exude secretory vesicles out of the cell membrane. These membrane-bound vesicles contain soluble proteins to be secreted to the extracellular environment, as well as membrane proteins and lipids that are sent to become components of the cell membrane. Exocytosis in neuronal chemical synapses is Ca2+ triggered and serves interneuronal signalling.

Mapping activity

Structure of a typical neuron

Dr. Wade Regehr, professor of Neurobiology developed a method to physiologically see the synaptic activity that occurs in the brain. A dye alters the fluorenscence properties when attached to calcium. Using fluorescence-microscopy techniques calcium levels are detected, and therefore the influx of calcium in the presynaptic neuron.[7] Regehr's laboratory specializes in pre-synaptic calcium dynamics which occurs at the axon terminals. Regehr studies the implication of calcium Ca2+ as it affects synaptic strength.[8][9] By studying the physiological process and mechanisms, a further understanding is made of neurological disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder, as well as memory and learning.[10][11]

See also


  1. Axon Terminal : on Medical Dictionary Online,, retrieved on 2008-12-25 
  2. Answers Corporation (2008), WikiAnswers - What is an axon terminal,, retrieved on 2008-12-25 
  3. Answers Corporation (2008), Axon Terminal - Synaptic Vesicle - Neurotransmitter,, retrieved on 2008-12-25 
  4. Llinás R, Steinberg IZ, Walton K (1981), "Relationship between presynaptic calcium current and postsynaptic potential in squid giant synapse", Biophysical Journal 33 (3): 323–351, doi:10.1016/S0006-3495(81)84899-0, PMID 6261850, PMC: 1327434, 
  5. (Carlson, 2007, p.56)
  6. Chudler, Eric H. (1996-2008), Neuroscience for kids Neurotransmitters and Neuroactive Peptides,, retrieved on 2008-12-25 
  7. Sauber, Colleen, Focus October 20-Neurobiology VISUALIZING THE SYNAPTIC CONNECTION,, retrieved on 2008-12-24 
  8. Regehr, Wade (1999-2008),, retrieved on 2008-12-24 
  9. President and Fellows of Harvard College (2008), The Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School,, retrieved on 2008-12-24 
  10. NINDS Announces New Javits Neuroscience Investigator Awardees ...Wednesday, May 04, 2005. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. URL accessed on 2008-12-24.
  11. Scholar Awards. The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. URL accessed on 2008-12-24.

External links

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