Cellular and molecular mechanisms of chemical synaptic transmission

D. E. Millhorn, D. A. Bayliss, J. T. Erickson, E. A. Gallman, C. L. Szymeczek, M. Czyzyk-Krzeska, J. B. Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


During the last decade much progress has been made in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which nerve cells communicate with each other and nonneural (e.g., muscle) target tissue. This review is intended to provide the reader with an account of this work. We begin with an historical overview of research on cell-to-cell communication and then discuss recent developments that, in some instances, have led to dramatic changes in the concept of synaptic transmission. For instance, the finding that single neurons often contain multiple messengers (i.e., neurotransmitters) invalidated the long-held theory (i.e., Dale's Law) that individual neurons contain and release one and only one type of neurotransmitter. Moreover, the last decade witnessed the inclusion of an entire group of compounds, the neuropeptides, as messenger molecules. Enormous progress has also been made in elucidating postsynaptic receptor complexes and biochemical intermediaries involved in synaptic transmission. Here the development of recombinant DNA technology has made it possible to clone and determine the molecular structure for a number of receptors. This information has been used to gain insight into how these receptors function either as a ligand-gated channel or as a G protein-linked ligand recognition molecule. Perhaps the most progress made during this era was in understanding the molecular linkage of G protein-linked receptors to intramembranous and cytoplasmic macromolecules involved in signal amplification and transduction. We conclude with a brief discussion of how synaptic transmission leads to immediate alterations in the electrical activity and, in some cases, to a change in phenotype by altering gene expression. These alterations in cellular behavior are believed to be mediated by phosphoproteins, the final biochemical product of signal transduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1/3
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1989


  • G protein
  • activity-dependent gene expression
  • coexistence
  • neurotransmitter
  • peptides
  • phosphoproteins
  • receptors
  • second messengers
  • synapse
  • transduction mechanisms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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