Classical electron microscopic studies of the mammalian brain revealed two major classes of synapses, distinguished by the presence of a large postsynaptic density (PSD) exclusively at type 1, excitatory synapses. Biochemical studies of the PSD have established the paradigm of the synapse as a complex signal-processing machine that controls synaptic plasticity. We report here the results of a proteomic analysis of type 2, inhibitory synaptic complexes isolated by affinity purification from the cerebral cortex. We show that these synaptic complexes contain a variety of neurotransmitter receptors, neural cell-scaffolding and adhesion molecules, but that they are entirely lacking in cell signaling proteins. This fundamental distinction between the functions of type 1 and type 2 synapses in the nervous system has far reaching implications for models of synaptic plasticity, rapid adaptations in neural circuits, and homeostatic mechanisms controlling the balance of excitation and inhibition in the mature brain.
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