Porocytosis: A new approach to synaptic function

Mahlon E. Kriebel, Bruce Keller, Robert B. Silver, Geoffrey Q. Fox, George D. Pappas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We propose a new approach to address the question of how a single quantum of neurotransmitter is secreted from a presynaptic terminal whose clustered secretory vesicles are locally bathed in high levels of calcium ions [Proceedings of the Symposium on Bioelectrogenesis (1961) 297-309; The Physiology of Synapses (1964) Chapters 1, 4, 5, 6; How the Self Controls its Brain (1994) Chapters 1, 4, 5, 6; Science 256 (1992) 677-679]. This hypothesis, which we term 'porocytosis', posits that the post-synaptic quantal response results from transmitter secreted through an array of docked vesicle/secretory pore complexes. The transient increase in calcium ions, which results from the voltage activated calcium channels, stimulates the array of secretory pores to simultaneously flicker open to pulse transmitter. Porocytosis is consistent with the quantal nature of presynaptic secretion and transmission, and with available biochemical, morphological and physiological evidence. It explains the frequency dependency of quantal size as a function of the secretion process. It permits a signature amount of transmitter release for different frequencies allowing a given synapse to be employed in different behavioral responses. The porocytosis hypothesis permits fidelity of secretion and the seemingly apposed characteristic of synaptic plasticity. The dynamics inherent in an array insure a constant quantal size as a function of the number of units within the array. In this hypothesis, plasticity is a consequence of concurrent pre- and post-synaptic changes due to a change in array size. Changes in the number of docked vesicle-secretory pore complexes composing the array can explain facilitation, depletion, graded excitation-secretion and long term plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-32
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research Reviews
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Porocytosis
  • Porosome
  • Quanta
  • Synaptic vesicle
  • Synaptomere
  • Transmitter secretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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