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Synaptic Terminal (Neuromuscular Junction)
Neurons are cells that are capable of accepting, generating and sending electrical signals (i.e. action potentials) to other cells. The region where this sort of transmission of the action potential takes place from one cell to the next is known as the synapse. The synapse is made up of the pre-synaptic cell and the post-synaptic cell. At the end of the pre-synaptic cell (the neuron) is the axon terminal (also called the synaptic terminal of synaptic bouton). The synaptic cleft is the region between the two cells. One common type of a synapse is the neuromuscular junction, which is the synapse between the neuron and a muscle fiber. When the action potential arrives to the synaptic terminal, it causes the opening of calcium channels and calcium ions rush into the cytosol of the pre-synaptic cell. This causes the synaptic vesicles carrying the neurotransmitter (acetylcholine for the case of the neuromuscular junction) to fuse with the membrane and release the neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft. The acetylcholine then binds onto special receptors on the protein channels found on the post-synaptic cell membrane. This opens the channels and causes sodium ions to rush into the cell, causing depolarization, which can cause the muscle to contract. This is the method by which the cell passes down the action potential from the neuron to the muscle cell. As long as the acetylcholine is still found in the synaptic cleft, it will continue binding to the protein channel and continue generating the action potential. To stop this process, an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase hydrolyzes the acetylcholine into acetate and choline. These products are then shuttled back into the pre-synaptic cell and can be used to generate acetylcholine molecules.
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