Three lectures behind, more to follow. This week’s lecture covered synaptic transmission or, in other words, how neurons communicate with each other and with other target cells outside the nervous system.
With my limited knowledge, I assume this to be one of the more important topics when learning about the brain, as it is the basis of all activity in our nervous systems. What amazes me is the enormous scale of synaptic transmission: as stated by the course book, there are billions of synapses in my brain releasing neurotransmitters every second as I am writing this blog post. And not only the scale, but the complexity as well. Those already complex chemical releases vary wildly in their nature and effect on the target cells. Somehow, those billions of (mostly) chemical reactions enable me to contemplate the very same reactions and produce thoughts of them, which then inflict billions of synapses to fire in your, the reader’s, brain. All of which can be traced back to simple calcium ions flowing through the presynaptic membrane.
Unfortunately, our knowledge is currently limited to singular synapses or neurons and how they transmit messages. Which, of course, is crucial in every meaning of the word. Knowing how synaptic transmission works has allowed us to identify multiple disorders, develop drugs to counteract them, discover how certain toxins work, and so on. But it leaves me wondering, what will we discover when we have the tools to observe millions (or hopefully more) of synapses simultaneously? And are there unknowns in a singular synaptic transmission or have we mostly figured that out already?
On the positive side, there is lots to look forward to in the field of neurosciences.