Protein–protein interactions and protein modules in the control of neurotransmitter release

Fabio Benfenati, Franco Onofri, Silvia Giovedí

Abstract

Information transfer among neurons is operated by neurotransmitters stored in synaptic vesicles and released to the extracellular space by an efficient process of regulated exocytosis. Synaptic vesicles are organized into two distinct functional pools, a large reserve pool in which vesicles are restrained by the actin–based cytoskeleton, and a quantitatively smaller releasable pool in which vesicles approach the presynaptic membrane and eventually fuse with it on stimulation. Both synaptic vesicle trafficking and neurotransmitter release depend on a precise sequence of events that include release from the reserve pool, targeting to the active zone, docking, priming, fusion and endocytotic retrieval of synaptic vesicles. These steps are mediated by a series of specific interactions among cytoskeletal, synaptic vesicle, presynaptic membrane and cytosolic proteins that, by acting in concert, promote the spatial and temporal regulation of the exocytotic machinery. The majority of these interactions are mediated by specific protein modules and domains that are found in many proteins and are involved in numerous intracellular processes. In this paper, the possible physiological role of these multiple protein–protein interactions is analysed, with ensuing updating and clarification of the present molecular model of the process of neurotransmitter release.