Brain Drain: Scientists Explain Why Neurons Consume So Much Fuel Even When at Rest
Weill Cornell Medical College
Dr. Ryan and his laboratory have shown in recent years that neurons’ synaptic terminals, bud-like growths from which they fire neurotransmitters, are major consumers of energy when active, and are very sensitive to any disruption of their fuel supply. In the new study they examined fuel use in synaptic terminals when inactive, and found that it is still high.
This high resting fuel consumption, they discovered, is accounted for largely by the pool of vesicles at synaptic terminals. During synaptic inactivity, vesicles are fully loaded with thousands of neurotransmitters each, and are ready to launch these signal-carrying payloads across synapses to partner neurons.
Why would a synaptic vesicle consume energy even when fully loaded? The researchers discovered that there is essentially a leakage of energy from the vesicle membrane, a “proton efflux,” such that a special “proton pump” enzyme in the vesicle has to keep working, and consuming fuel as it does so, even when…