Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 701-712 (October 2009) | doi:10.1038/nrn2717

There is a Corrigendum (1 November 2009) associated with this article.

Focus on: CNS evolution

The origin and evolution of synapses

Tomás J. Ryan1,2 & Seth G. N. Grant1  About the authors


Understanding the evolutionary origins of behaviour is a central aim in the study of biology and may lead to insights into human disorders. Synaptic transmission is observed in a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate organisms and underlies their behaviour. Proteomic studies of the molecular components of the highly complex mammalian postsynaptic machinery point to an ancestral molecular machinery in unicellular organisms — the protosynapse — that existed before the evolution of metazoans and neurons, and hence challenges existing views on the origins of the brain. The phylogeny of the molecular components of the synapse provides a new model for studying synapse diversity and complexity, and their implications for brain evolution.

Author affiliations

  1. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK.
  2. Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, Barton Road, Cambridge, CB3 9BB, UK.

Correspondence to: Seth G. N. Grant1 Email:

Published online 9 September 2009


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