The synaptic bouton acts like a salt shaker

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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The physiological quantal responses at the neuromuscular junction and the bouton-neuron show two classes based on amplitude such that the larger class is about 10 times that of the smaller class; and, the larger class is composed of the smaller class. The ratio of the two classes changes with synaptogenesis, degeneration, nerve stimulation, and is readily altered with various challenges (ionic, tonicity, pharmacological agents). Statistical analyses demonstrate that each bouton or release site at the neruomuscular junction (NMJ) secretes a standard amount of transmitter (one quantum) with each action potential. The amount of transmitter secreted (quantal size) is frequency dependent. The quantal-vesicular-exocytotic (QVE) hypothesis posits that the packet of secreted transmitter is released from one vesicle by exocytosis. The QVE hypothesis neither explains two quantal classes and subunits nor exocytosis of only one vesicle at each site. The latter observation requires a mechanism to select one vesicle from each array. Our porocytosis hypothesis states that the quantal packet is pulsed from an array of secretory pores. A salt shaker delivers a standard pinch of salt with each shake because salt flows through all openings in the cap. The variation in the pinch of salt or transmitter decreases with an increase in array size. The docked vesicles, paravesicular matrix, and porosomes (pores) of a release site form the secretory unit. In analogy with the sacromere as the functional unit of skeletal muscle, we term the array of docked vesicles and paravesicular grid along with the array of postsynaptic receptors a synaptomere. Pulsed secretion from an array explains the substructure of the postsynaptic response (quantum). The array guarantees a constant amount of secretion with each action potential and permits a given synapse to function in different responses because different frequencies would secrete signature amounts of transmitter. Our porocytosis hypothesis readily explains a change in quantal size during learning and memory with an increase in the number of elements (docked vesicles) composing the array.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-263
Number of pages5
JournalCell Biochemistry and Biophysics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Neurotransmitter
  • Porocytosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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