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I'm reading this paper for a presentation I have to do. Since I have no real biology background I encountered a few questions and one I couldn't find an answer using my google-fu.

It's about how neurons can connect. Wikipedia says, typically neurons connect via axon (transmitter) and dendrites (receiver) but there are also special cases where dendrites connect with dendrites, axons with with another axon, neurons with no axon etc.

Now in the paper they refer to the soma-soma paired neurons and their strength of their cholinergic synapse. Does that now mean that they neurons do directly interact via their soma? If so, how much different is that process to the generic axon->dendrite pathway?

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Just for completeness: not all neurons connect to another neuron :) –  nico Apr 5 '12 at 15:13
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yep, the soma-soma synapse in that paper appears to be a chemical synapse between two cell bodies. There are no axons or dendrites in that preparation so the synapse must be between the somas. They are using two snail neurons that are far from each other (in different ganglia) in vivo, but which are known to synapse. This in vivo synapse is long-range and so must be mediated by an axon. In the dish, they can encourage the synapse to form even without encouraging axons and dendrites to grow.

Note that this is an artificial in vitro preparation and they are, in some sense, forcing a synapse to occur in an unusual way in a cell culture dish. They do this because it makes it easy to study certain aspects of the signalling mechanisms for generating synapses. In your paper, they appear to be using it as an easy preparation for a proof of principle for the interface between a biological neuron and a non-biological semiconductor substrate.

The paper you cited references this paper that outlines the soma-soma preparation with a pretty picture to make things clear: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/19/21/9306

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With 'preparation' you mean something like the 'setup'? So they prepare the cells in that manner? Thanks for the answer, will read that paper! Cheers –  Philipp Apr 5 '12 at 17:53
    
Exactly right, they prepare (or setup) the cells in a particular way so that they can study them later. For instance, here they are removing the neurons from the snail and putting them together in a dish. Then they add a solution that encourages the synapse to form. As you might imagine, any given preparation will be good for investigating some things but bad for other things. A major part of experimental design in biology is choosing the right "preparation." –  yamad Apr 5 '12 at 18:01
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