Functional Specialization of Synapses

The structural diversity of presynaptic components is great: one finds club endings, large end bulbs, small end bulbs, spiral endings that wrap around the axon hillock and initial segment of the target neuron, fibers of passage merely brushing the dendrites as they pass by, claw-shaped endings that seem to seize the cell body of a neuron or grasp a dendritic spine, extended zones of apposition of an axon and a dendrite, as in the case of the cerebellar climbing fiber, where numerous synapses are made, and other types. All of these structural variations reflect functional specialization. A synapse en passant allows an axon (like that of a cerebellar granule cell) to distribute its influences to multiple target cells along its course, whereas the obsessive climbing fiber ending on a Purkinje cell provides the focused protracted connectivity underlying the most powerful excitatory synapse in the human brain.

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