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Concept: Neurophysiology


Information in a computer is quantified by the number of bits that can be stored and recovered. An important question about the brain is how much information can be stored at a synapse through synaptic plasticity, which depends on the history of probabilistic synaptic activity. The strong correlation between size and efficacy of a synapse allowed us to estimate the variability of synaptic plasticity. In an EM reconstruction of hippocampal neuropil we found single axons making two or more synaptic contacts onto the same dendrites, having shared histories of presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. The spine heads and neck diameters, but not neck lengths, of these pairs were nearly identical in size. We found that there is a minimum of 26 distinguishable synaptic strengths, corresponding to storing 4.7 bits of information at each synapse. Because of stochastic variability of synaptic activation the observed precision requires averaging activity over several minutes.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Long-term potentiation, Chemical synapse, Neurophysiology


Schizophrenia patients exhibit deficits on visual processing tasks, including visual backward masking, and these impairments are related to deficits in higher-level processes. In the current study we used electroencephalography techniques to examine successive stages and pathways of visual processing in a specialized masking paradigm, four-dot masking, which involves masking by object substitution. Seventy-six schizophrenia patients and 66 healthy controls had event-related potentials (ERPs) recorded during four-dot masking. Target visibility was manipulated by changing stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between the target and mask, such that performance decreased with increasing SOA. Three SOAs were used: 0, 50, and 100 ms. The P100 and N100 perceptual ERPs were examined. Additionally, the visual awareness negativity (VAN) to correct vs. incorrect responses, an index of reentrant processing, was examined for SOAs 50 and 100 ms. Results showed that patients performed worse than controls on the behavioral task across all SOAs. The ERP results revealed that patients had significantly smaller P100 and N100 amplitudes, though there was no effect of SOA on either component in either group. In healthy controls, but not patients, N100 amplitude correlated significantly with behavioral performance at SOAs where masking occurred, such that higher accuracy correlated with a larger N100. Healthy controls, but not patients, exhibited a larger VAN to correct vs. incorrect responses. The results indicate that the N100 appears to be related to attentional effort in the task in controls, but not patients. Considering that the VAN is thought to reflect reentrant processing, one interpretation of the findings is that patients' lack of VAN response and poorer performance may be related to dysfunctional reentrant processing.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Electroencephalography, Visual system, Evoked potential, The Target, Neurophysiology, Event-related potential, Backward masking


Studies on neural plasticity associated with brain-machine interface (BMI) exposure have primarily documented changes in single neuron activity, and largely in intact subjects. Here, we demonstrate significant changes in ensemble-level functional connectivity among primary motor cortical (MI) neurons of chronically amputated monkeys exposed to control a multiple-degree-of-freedom robot arm. A multi-electrode array was implanted in M1 contralateral or ipsilateral to the amputation in three animals. Two clusters of stably recorded neurons were arbitrarily assigned to control reach and grasp movements, respectively. With exposure, network density increased in a nearly monotonic fashion in the contralateral monkeys, whereas the ipsilateral monkey pruned the existing network before re-forming a denser connectivity. Excitatory connections among neurons within a cluster were denser, whereas inhibitory connections were denser among neurons across the two clusters. These results indicate that cortical network connectivity can be modified with BMI learning, even among neurons that have been chronically de-efferented and de-afferented due to amputation.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Neuroscience, Neurotransmitter, Membrane potential, Neurophysiology


Propofol is the most commonly used general anesthetic in humans. Our understanding of its mechanism of action has focused on its capacity to potentiate inhibitory systems in the brain. However, it is unknown whether other neural mechanisms are involved in general anesthesia. Here, we demonstrate that the synaptic release machinery is also a target. Using single-particle tracking photoactivation localization microscopy, we show that clinically relevant concentrations of propofol and etomidate restrict syntaxin1A mobility on the plasma membrane, whereas non-anesthetic analogs produce the opposite effect and increase syntaxin1A mobility. Removing the interaction with the t-SNARE partner SNAP-25 abolishes propofol-induced syntaxin1A confinement, indicating that syntaxin1A and SNAP-25 together form an emergent drug target. Impaired syntaxin1A mobility and exocytosis under propofol are both rescued by co-expressing a truncated syntaxin1A construct that interacts with SNAP-25. Our results suggest that propofol interferes with a step in SNARE complex formation, resulting in non-functional syntaxin1A nanoclusters.

Concepts: Brain, Cell membrane, Anesthesia, General anaesthesia, Neurophysiology, SNAP-25, Synaptotagmin, SNARE


How sleep influences brain plasticity is not known. In particular, why certain electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythms are linked to memory consolidation is poorly understood. Calcium activity in dendrites is known to be necessary for structural plasticity changes, but this has never been carefully examined during sleep. Here, we report that calcium activity in populations of neocortical dendrites is increased and synchronised during oscillations in the spindle range in naturally sleeping rodents. Remarkably, the same relationship is not found in cell bodies of the same neurons and throughout the cortical column. Spindles during sleep have been suggested to be important for brain development and plasticity. Our results provide evidence for a physiological link of spindles in the cortex specific to dendrites, the main site of synaptic plasticity.Different stages of sleep, marked by particular electroencephalographic (EEG) signatures, have been linked to memory consolidation, but underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, the authors show that dendritic calcium synchronisation correlates with spindle-rich sleep phases.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Sleep, Neuroscience, Cerebral cortex, Electroencephalography, Synapse, Neurophysiology


Efference copies refer to internal duplicates of movement-producing neural signals. Their primary function is to predict, and often suppress, the sensory consequences of willed movements. Efference copies have been almost exclusively investigated in the context of overt movements. The current electrophysiological study employed a novel design to show that inner speech - the silent production of words in one’s mind - is also associated with an efference copy. Participants produced an inner phoneme at a precisely specified time, at which an audible phoneme was concurrently presented. The production of the inner phoneme resulted in electrophysiological suppression, but only if the content of the inner phoneme matched the content of the audible phoneme. These results demonstrate that inner speech - a purely mental action - is associated with an efference copy with detailed auditory properties. These findings suggest that inner speech may ultimately reflect a special type of overt speech.

Concepts: Neuron, Ion channel, Electrophysiology, Neuroscience, Novel, Neurophysiology, Suppression, Suppression of dissent


Whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiological recording is a powerful technique for studying cellular function. While in vivo patch-clamp recording has recently benefited from automation, it is normally performed “blind,” meaning that throughput for sampling some genetically or morphologically defined cell types is unacceptably low. One solution to this problem is to use two-photon microscopy to target fluorescently labeled neurons. Combining this with robotic automation is difficult, however, as micropipette penetration induces tissue deformation, moving target cells from their initial location. Here we describe a platform for automated two-photon targeted patch-clamp recording, which solves this problem by making use of a closed loop visual servo algorithm. Our system keeps the target cell in focus while iteratively adjusting the pipette approach trajectory to compensate for tissue motion. We demonstrate platform validation with patch-clamp recordings from a variety of cells in the mouse neocortex and cerebellum.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Brain, Action potential, Ion channel, Electrophysiology, Neurophysiology


The relation between informal musical activities at home and electrophysiological indices of neural auditory change detection was investigated in 2-3-year-old children. Auditory event-related potentials were recorded in a multi-feature paradigm that included frequency, duration, intensity, direction, gap deviants and attention-catching novel sounds. Correlations were calculated between these responses and the amount of musical activity at home (i.e. musical play by the child and parental singing) reported by the parents. A higher overall amount of informal musical activity was associated with larger P3as elicited by the gap and duration deviants, and smaller late discriminative negativity responses elicited by all deviant types. Furthermore, more musical activities were linked to smaller P3as elicited by the novel sounds, whereas more paternal singing was associated with smaller reorienting negativity responses to these sounds. These results imply heightened sensitivity to temporal acoustic changes, more mature auditory change detection, and less distractibility in children with more informal musical activities in their home environment. Our results highlight the significance of informal musical experiences in enhancing the development of highly important auditory abilities in early childhood.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Electroencephalography, Child, Childhood, Acoustics, Sound, Neurophysiology, Opera


Layer 4 (L4) of primary visual cortex (V1) is the main recipient of thalamocortical fibers from the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGNd). Thus, it is considered the main entry point of visual information into the neocortex and the first anatomical opportunity for intracortical visual processing before information leaves L4 and reaches supra- and infragranular cortical layers. The strength of monosynaptic connections from individual L4 excitatory cells onto adjacent L4 cells (unitary connections) is highly malleable, demonstrating that the initial stage of intracortical synaptic transmission of thalamocortical information can be altered by previous activity. However, the inhibitory network within L4 of V1 may act as an internal gate for induction of excitatory synaptic plasticity, thus providing either high fidelity throughput to supragranular layers or transmittal of a modified signal subject to recent activity-dependent plasticity. To evaluate this possibility, we compared the induction of synaptic plasticity using classical extracellular stimulation protocols that recruit a combination of excitatory and inhibitory synapses with stimulation of a single excitatory neuron onto a L4 cell. In order to induce plasticity, we paired pre- and postsynaptic activity (with the onset of postsynaptic spiking leading the presynaptic activation by 10ms) using extracellular stimulation (ECS) in acute slices of primary visual cortex and comparing the outcomes with our previously published results in which an identical protocol was used to induce synaptic plasticity between individual pre- and postsynaptic L4 excitatory neurons. Our results indicate that pairing of ECS with spiking in a L4 neuron fails to induce plasticity in L4-L4 connections if synaptic inhibition is intact. However, application of a similar pairing protocol under GABAARs inhibition by bath application of 2μM bicuculline does induce robust synaptic plasticity, long term potentiation (LTP) or long term depression (LTD), similar to our results with pairing of pre- and postsynaptic activation between individual excitatory L4 neurons in which inhibitory connections are not activated. These results are consistent with the well-established observation that inhibition limits the capacity for induction of plasticity at excitatory synapses and that pre- and postsynaptic activation at a fixed time interval can result in a variable range of plasticity outcomes. However, in the current study by virtue of having two sets of experimental data, we have provided a new insight into these processes. By randomly mixing the assorting of individual L4 neurons according to the frequency distribution of the experimentally determined plasticity outcome distribution based on the calculated convergence of multiple individual L4 neurons onto a single postsynaptic L4 neuron, we were able to compare then actual ECS plasticity outcomes to those predicted by randomly mixing individual pairs of neurons. Interestingly, the observed plasticity profiles with ECS cannot account for the random assortment of plasticity behaviors of synaptic connections between individual cell pairs. These results suggest that connections impinging onto a single postsynaptic cell may be grouped according to plasticity states.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Long-term potentiation, Lateral geniculate nucleus, Chemical synapse, Neurophysiology, Postsynaptic potential


Direct electrical access to presynaptic ion channels has hitherto been limited to large specialized terminals such as the calyx of Held or hippocampal mossy fiber bouton. The electrophysiology and ion-channel complement of far more abundant small synaptic terminals (≤1 μm) remain poorly understood. Here we report a method based on superresolution scanning ion conductance imaging of small synapses in culture at approximately 100-150 nm 3D resolution, which allows presynaptic patch-clamp recordings in all four configurations (cell-attached, inside-out, outside-out, and whole-cell). Using this technique, we report presynaptic recordings of K(+), Na(+), Cl(-), and Ca(2+) channels. This semiautomated approach allows direct investigation of the distribution and properties of presynaptic ion channels at small central synapses.

Concepts: Action potential, Ion channel, Chemical synapse, Neurophysiology