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Structure connecting neurons in the nervous system / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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In the nervous system, a synapse[1] is a structure that permits a neuron (or nerve cell) to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron or to the target effector cell.

Diagram of a chemical synaptic connection.

Synapses are essential to the transmission of nervous impulses from one neuron to another,[2] playing a key role in enabling rapid and direct communication by creating circuits. In addition, a synapse serves as a junction where both the transmission and processing of information occur, making it a vital means of communication between neurons.[3] Neurons are specialized to pass signals to individual target cells, and synapses are the means by which they do so. At a synapse, the plasma membrane of the signal-passing neuron (the presynaptic neuron) comes into close apposition with the membrane of the target (postsynaptic) cell. Both the presynaptic and postsynaptic sites contain extensive arrays of molecular machinery that link the two membranes together and carry out the signaling process. In many synapses, the presynaptic part is located on an axon and the postsynaptic part is located on a dendrite or soma. Astrocytes also exchange information with the synaptic neurons, responding to synaptic activity and, in turn, regulating neurotransmission.[2] Synapses (at least chemical synapses) are stabilized in position by synaptic adhesion molecules (SAMs) projecting from both the pre- and post-synaptic neuron and sticking together where they overlap; SAMs may also assist in the generation and functioning of synapses.[4] Moreover, SAMs coordinate the formation of synapses, with various types working together to achieve the remarkable specificity of synapses.[3][5] In essence, SAMs function in both excitatory and inhibitory synapses, likely serving as devices for signal transmission.[3]

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