Simplified Science

Molecular Basis of Synaptic Function

Microscopic image of the synaptic compartments, which serve as the central location for neuronal communication. Image by the MPFI STED Microscopy Core

Understanding how synapses work is critical for all aspects of brain function.  Thousands of different molecules amplify, modulate and carry information from tiny synaptic compartments all the way through the entire length of a neuron.

At Max Planck Florida, scientists are establishing the precise interactions between these molecules that allow neurons to maintain and adjust their functional properties, providing the proper balance of stability and plasticity that enables brain feats like memory, cognition, decision making, sensation, and action. Ground-breaking insights are being achieved through the development of revolutionary imaging techniques and biosensors that make it possible to visualize the activity of various proteins at the scale of individual synapses in the living brain. These tools enable us to better understand how these proteins communicate with each other, how they contribute to neural function, and how these functions are impacted by neurological and psychiatric disorders.