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Presynaptic Neuron vs. Postsynaptic Neuron — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Published on June 19, 2024
A presynaptic neuron transmits signals towards a synapse, while a postsynaptic neuron receives signals on the other side of the synapse.
Presynaptic Neuron vs. Postsynaptic Neuron — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Presynaptic Neuron and Postsynaptic Neuron


Key Differences

The presynaptic neuron is involved in the release of neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, initiating the transmission of signals. On the other hand, the postsynaptic neuron is responsible for receiving these neurotransmitters, which bind to its receptors and may generate a new electrical signal.
The presynaptic neuron plays a crucial role in the communication between neurons, where it prepares and releases chemical messages in response to electrical impulses. While the postsynaptic neuron's primary function is to receive and process information from the presynaptic neuron, leading to further transmission of signals or execution of cellular responses.
While the presynaptic neuron is the starting point of neurotransmitter-mediated communication, ensuring the directional flow of information, the postsynaptic neuron acts as the receiver and interpreter of the message, determining the outcome of the transmitted signal.
Presynaptic neurons can adjust the quantity of neurotransmitter release in response to changes in neuronal activity, a mechanism involved in synaptic plasticity. This adaptability is essential for learning and memory. Conversely, postsynaptic neurons contribute to plasticity by modifying receptor density or sensitivity, affecting how signals are interpreted and responded to.
The functionality of a neural circuit relies on the intricate balance and interaction between presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. The presynaptic neuron determines the strength and timing of the signal, whereas the postsynaptic neuron's response can influence subsequent neural activity and network dynamics.

Comparison Chart


Signal transmission initiation
Signal reception and processing


Releases neurotransmitters
Receives and responds to neurotransmitters


Before the synaptic cleft
After the synaptic cleft


Regulates neurotransmitter release
Modifies receptor properties for signal interpretation

Influence on Plasticity

Adjusts neurotransmitter release rate
Alters receptor density or sensitivity

Compare with Definitions

Presynaptic Neuron

Synaptic Cleft Preceder
The presynaptic neuron is positioned directly before the synaptic cleft in a neural pathway.

Postsynaptic Neuron

Synaptic Cleft Successor
The postsynaptic neuron is located immediately after the synaptic cleft, ready to receive neurotransmitters.

Presynaptic Neuron

Signal Initiator
The presynaptic neuron initiates communication by releasing neurotransmitters.

Postsynaptic Neuron

Signal Receiver
The postsynaptic neuron receives signals through neurotransmitter receptors.

Presynaptic Neuron

Neurotransmitter Release
In a presynaptic neuron, synaptic vesicles fuse with the membrane to release neurotransmitters.

Postsynaptic Neuron

Response Modulator
Postsynaptic neurons modulate their response by changing receptor sensitivity.

Presynaptic Neuron

Electrical to Chemical Signal Conversion
The presynaptic neuron converts electrical signals into chemical messages.

Postsynaptic Neuron

Chemical to Electrical Signal Conversion
Upon neurotransmitter binding, the postsynaptic neuron converts chemical messages back into electrical signals.

Presynaptic Neuron

Plasticity Contributor
Presynaptic neurons adjust their neurotransmitter release in response to learning.

Postsynaptic Neuron

Plasticity Contributor
Postsynaptic neurons play a role in synaptic plasticity by altering receptor density.

Common Curiosities

How do presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons communicate?

They communicate through the synaptic cleft, with the presynaptic neuron releasing neurotransmitters that are received by the postsynaptic neuron.

What role do neurotransmitters play in neuron communication?

Neurotransmitters facilitate communication between neurons by transmitting signals across the synaptic cleft.

What is a presynaptic neuron?

A presynaptic neuron is one that sends signals to a synapse by releasing neurotransmitters.

Can a neuron be both presynaptic and postsynaptic?

Yes, a neuron can be both presynaptic and postsynaptic depending on its position in a neural circuit.

How do presynaptic neurons influence synaptic plasticity?

Presynaptic neurons influence synaptic plasticity by adjusting the amount of neurotransmitter they release.

How does the postsynaptic neuron process received signals?

The postsynaptic neuron processes received signals by generating electrical signals in response to neurotransmitter binding.

What happens when neurotransmitters bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron?

When neurotransmitters bind to receptors, they can initiate or inhibit electrical signals in the postsynaptic neuron, depending on the type of neurotransmitter and receptor.

What is a postsynaptic neuron?

A postsynaptic neuron is one that receives signals through receptors that bind neurotransmitters released by a presynaptic neuron.

What is synaptic cleft?

The synaptic cleft is the small gap between the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons where neurotransmitter-mediated communication occurs.

How do postsynaptic neurons contribute to synaptic plasticity?

Postsynaptic neurons contribute by altering their receptor density or sensitivity, affecting signal reception and processing.

What determines the direction of signal flow in neurons?

The arrangement of presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons determines the directional flow of signals in neural circuits.

How do neurons adapt to changes in neural activity?

Neurons adapt through mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, involving changes in neurotransmitter release and receptor sensitivity.

How do diseases affect presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons?

Diseases can disrupt communication between neurons by affecting neurotransmitter levels, receptor function, or the neurons' ability to respond to signals, leading to various neurological conditions.

What mechanisms regulate neurotransmitter release in presynaptic neurons?

Neurotransmitter release is regulated by the influx of calcium ions and the fusion of synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic membrane.

Why is the balance between presynaptic and postsynaptic activity important?

The balance is crucial for proper neural circuit function, affecting learning, memory, and overall brain activity.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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