Drugs and the Synapse


The concept that centrally acting drugs influence behaviour by influencing neurotransmitter function at specific points controlling synaptic transmission is the basis of neuropharmacological research.The synapse is a specialized cellular interface that provides a physical and chemical link for facilitating communication between cells of the central nervous system (CNS).

Keywords: agonist; antagonist; antidepressant; pain; neurotransmitter

Figure 1.

The major components of the synapse are depicted in this schematic diagram. Each component subserves the process of sending electrical signals from the presynaptic neuron across a chemical synaptic cleft to the electrical signal‐repeating and ‐modifying machinery of the postsynaptic side. This link contains specialized proteins which respond to neurotransmitters, ions and hormones to make this signal transmission possible. The presynaptic side of the synapse is represented as a terminal protrusion from the neuron which is juxtaposed anatomically to the postsynaptic dendrite of the next neuron in the communication chain. Importantly, these synaptic links are focal points for both the aetiology of neurological disease states and for drugs that can treat or cure these diseases.


Further Reading

Alexander S and Peters J (eds) (1998) Receptor & Ion Channel Nomenclature Supplement, 9th edn. Cambridge, UK: Elsevier.

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Blier P and de Montigny C (1998) Possible serotonergic mechanisms underlying the antidepressant and antiobsessive–compulsive disorder responses. Biological Psychiatry 44: 313–323.

Carvey PM (1998) Drug Action in the Central Nervous System. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hartman DS and Civelli O (1997) Dopamine receptor diversity: molecular and pharmacological perspectives. Progress in Drug Research 48: 173–194.

Holmes VF (1995) Medical use of psychostimulants: an overview. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 25(1): 1–19.

Leonard BE (1996) New approaches to the treatment of depression. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 57(supplement 4): 26–33.

Munson PM, Mueller RA and Breese GR (1995) Principles of Pharmacology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Applications. New York: Chapman and Hall.

Onghena P and van Houdenhove B (1992) Antidepressant‐induced analgesia in chronic non‐malignant pain: a meta‐analysis of 39 placebo controlled studies. Pain 49: 205–219.

Pryor JC and Sulser F (1990) Evolution of the monoamine hypotheses of depression. In: Horton RW and Katona C (eds) Biological Aspects of Affective Disorders, pp. 77–94. London: Academic Press.

Tunnicliff G, Eison AS and Taylor DP (1991) Buspirone: Mechanisms and Clinical Aspects. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Watling KJ (ed.) (1998) The RBI Handbook of Receptor Classification and Signal Transduction, 3rd edn. Natick, MA: RBI.

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Knapp, Darin J, Breese, Charles R, Mueller, Robert A, and Breese, George R(Apr 2001) Drugs and the Synapse. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0000098]