Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

22. Secrets of Synaptic Activity

Timothy A. Ryan, Weill Cornell Medical College Biochemistry/Biochemistry in Anesthesiology, discovered an important new step in the functioning of synapses, the gaps separating individual cells in the brain. Every human thought, action, and emotion requires rapid, complex communication between millions of neurons in the brain. Packets of neurotransmitter chemicals called vesicles are carried from one brain cell to the next across the synapse. The vesicles bind with a cell’s surface at the discharge point in a process called excytosis. The empty vesicles need pick-up and refilling in a second process—endocytosis. Research in mice suggests a protein named synaptotagmin I has a dual function in synaptic activity. It has a key role in the drop-off of messenger neurotransmitter at the surface of brain cells and a role in picking up and recycling the emptied neurotransmitter packets of chemicals once the drop-off has taken place. Ryan’s advance in understanding how neurons in the brain use chemicals to pass information across synapses is important to medical science because nearly all neurological diseases, addictions, and drugs aimed at the brain function rely on synaptic activity.

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