The focused meeting entitled ‘Molecular Determinants of Synaptic Function: Molecules and Models’ brought together several molecules and experimental models that are furthering our understanding of the biochemical basis of integrative brain function. Invited speakers and short communications from more junior scientists highlighted how individual molecules or protein networks underlie defined subcellular functions (e.g. transmitter release, receptor activation and transmitter uptake) can be used to unravel integrative function at cellular, systems and behavioural levels.
The Biochemical Society focused meeting ‘Molecular Determinants of Synaptic Function: Molecules and Models’ took place on 22–23 September in the conference centre housed in Chilworth Manor, Southampton. The ambience of the meeting supported by the venue and the quality of the speakers and their science owes much to the generous support of a number of sponsors: Abcam, Affiniti Research Products Ltd, BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), Capsant Neurotechnologies, Eli Lilly, Ferring Research Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Portland Press Ltd, Syngenta and UCB Pharma. The meeting from which the ensuing articles are taken was conceived to pay homage to the synapse and the underlying molecular mechanisms that support its function. This subcompartment lies at the heart of neurosciences, and our understanding of its form and function has evolved from studies encompassing, among others, Ramón y Cajal's microscopy , Katz's electrophysiology , Palade and Paly's electron microscopy , Whittaker's biochemistry  and the ensuing molecular revolution that has seen the synaptic molecules cloned and genetically manipulated . The preceding methodological listing and name-dropping certainly highlights the historical perspective that has led to our current view of the synapse. However, it also highlights the kind of integrated use of methodologies that converge to drive forward current synaptic research. The articles nicely illustrate themes and concepts that emerged from the meeting. First, the articles highlight how molecular investigations at the synapse can drive integrated analysis of synaptic function, spanning molecules to behaviour. Secondly, it should be apparent that the progressive investigation of synaptic biology uses a full spectrum of model systems encompassing Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, mice and other non-genetic systems (e.g. the squid giant synapse). This ‘mix and match’ comes out in the articles, and the meeting had the genuine aim of dovetailing approaches. Indeed, the real strength of the model organisms and systems, reinforced at the meeting, is best realized when scientists using different organisms share the same meeting platform. When this happens, the true complementarity is appreciated. The meeting and the associated text reinforce the community's prowess at experimentally manipulating synaptic function and highlight that the long-term aim of refining the role that the synapse plays in the context of animal function (behaviour) is closer to being realized. Finally, there is a further consequence of the community's powerful desire to understand synaptic function that emerged from the meeting and it is touched on by these articles, namely the potential role of synaptic dysfunction in disease. Whether this is genetic disease arising through direct mutations in synaptic molecules (e.g. glycine transporters or scaffold proteins) or more circumspect disruption of synaptic processes by protein misfolding diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's disease or prion disease), the value in increasing our understanding of the molecular determinants of synaptic function cannot be disputed. We hope that the following articles provide a flavour of the breadth of insight that our 2-day focused meeting generated.
Molecular Determinants of Synaptic Function: Molecules and Models: Focused Meeting held at Chilworth Manor and the University of Southampton, U.K., 22–23 September 2005. Organized and edited by L. Holden-Dye (Southampton, U.K.), V. O'Connor (Southampton, U.K.) and F.A. Stephenson (School of Pharmacy, London, U.K.). Sponsored by Abcam, Affiniti Research Products Ltd, BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), Capsant Neurotechnologies, Eli Lilly, Ferring Research Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Portland Press Ltd, Syngenta and UCB Pharma.