What does a nerve synapse, the point where a signal is passed to the next neuron, really look like? Your biology textbook probably had a picture like this:
The reality, reported by German scientists this week in the journal Science, is much, much more complex. They pieced together the blobby jumble through microscopy and advanced protein science, giving us the best picture yet of what a nerve synapse really looks like.
We’ve already talked about how cells are not bags of water filled with a few organelles, and the synapse is no exception, as it has to shuttle packages of chemicals in and out of the cell sometimes dozens of times per second. The 100+ trillion synapses in your brain all depend on this seemingly chaotic (but really it’s highly regulated) architecture to function.
Looking at this, it’s a wonder that our nerves work at all. But they do, and despite what looks like chaos, they work quite well. I mean, think about it (there they go working again) … they’re what let us figure all this out in the first place.
A 3D model of synaptic architecture. ”We used an integrative approach, combining quantitative immunoblotting and mass spectrometry to determine protein numbers; electron microscopy to measure organelle numbers, sizes, and positions; and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to localize the proteins. Using these data, we generated a three-dimensional model of an “average” synapse, displaying 300,000 proteins in atomic detail.” Via.