What is a Synapse?

What is a Synapse?


— By: Markel Olabarria, postdoc at Columbia University

Image credit: Markel Olabarria. A synaptic conversation.

Synapse is where the conversation between two neurons takes place. One neuron talks while the other listens. The message is a chemical message, called neurotransmitter (yellow dots), and it is stored in a kind of balloon, called vesicles (in red). When the time comes, these balloons rush to the surface and release the neurotransmitter into the space between the two neurons. Once outside, the neurotransmitter reaches the receptors (yellow structures) of the next neuron and in this way the message is passed along.

This process occurs very rapidly: it can happen as fast as in milliseconds (a thousandth of a second). If we consider all synapses in our brain, we can say it takes place continuously, with no rest, throughout our lives. Every activity we do, even the simplest one, requires the synapses in action. Whether we read a book, engage in a conversation, sleep, eat or practice our favorite sport, synapses are constantly passing the message to make all of this possible.

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