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John Smythies. Published by MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002, pp 150, £39.95. ISBN 0-262-19473-2
The subject of this book, synaptic plasticity, represents one of the most exciting developments in present day molecular neurobiology. No longer is the brain considered to be hardwired, but instead is capable of rapidly responding to a variety of endogenous signals or external environmental factors that bring about complex molecular, physiological, and structural changes affecting synaptic transmission. The recognition of the truly dynamic nature of neuronal physiology is aptly highlighted in the title of the book. The author, John Smythies, has had a long and distinguished career as a neuroscientist with a particular interest in schizophrenia. In this book he has made an excellent synthesis of the enormous complexity of receptor responses and the interplay with the multiple redox reactions occurring at the synapse.
The first chapter is focused on the nature of synaptic plasticity with particular emphasis on the glutamate synapse and associated redox reactions. This provides considerable insight into these interactions and is a valuable literature resource. The book then progresses to more specialised subjects such as endocytosis and exocytosis (chapter two), and to important specialised proteins such as cell adhesion molecules and scaffold proteins (chapter three). The miscellaneous topics covered in chapter four include a discussion of the role dopamine in synaptic plasticity, but this chapter is disjointed, without a clear thread running through it. In chapter five the author extrapolates from the various reactions covered in the earlier chapters to their relevance in the pathobiology of disease, especially concentrating on schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. This chapter provides a fascinating viewpoint undoubtedly reflecting the author’s unique perspective. This is followed by a brief final concluding chapter (chapter six).
This is not a textbook, nor a comprehensive review, but it is certainly a very readable insight into the complex molecular interactions occurring in synaptic plasticity and an excellent starting point to help understand a rapidly developing and important area of neuroscience.