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Concept: Postsynaptic potential


An unusual feature of the cerebellar cortex is that its output neurons, Purkinje cells, release GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid). Their high intrinsic firing rates (50 Hz) and extensive convergence predict that their target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei would be largely inhibited unless Purkinje cells pause their spiking, yet Purkinje and nuclear neuron firing rates do not always vary inversely. One indication of how these synapses transmit information is that populations of Purkinje neurons synchronize their spikes during cerebellar behaviours. If nuclear neurons respond to Purkinje synchrony, they may encode signals from subsets of inhibitory inputs. Here we show in weanling and adult mice that nuclear neurons transmit the timing of synchronous Purkinje afferent spikes, owing to modest Purkinje-to-nuclear convergence ratios (∼40:1), fast inhibitory postsynaptic current kinetics (τ(decay) = 2.5 ms) and high intrinsic firing rates (∼90 Hz). In vitro, dynamically clamped asynchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials mimicking Purkinje afferents suppress nuclear cell spiking, whereas synchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials entrain nuclear cell spiking. With partial synchrony, nuclear neurons time-lock their spikes to the synchronous subpopulation of inputs, even when only 2 out of 40 afferents synchronize. In vivo, nuclear neurons reliably phase-lock to regular trains of molecular layer stimulation. Thus, cerebellar nuclear neurons can preferentially relay the spike timing of synchronized Purkinje cells to downstream premotor areas.

Concepts: Climbing fiber, Brain, Postsynaptic potential, Parallel fiber, Action potential, Purkinje cell, Cerebellum, Neuron


Loss of a sensory input causes the hypersensitivity in other modalities. In addition to cross-modal plasticity, the sensory cortices without receiving inputs undergo the plastic changes. It is not clear how the different types of neurons and synapses in the sensory cortex coordinately change after input deficits in order to prevent loss of their functions and to be used for other modalities. We studied this subject in the barrel cortices from whiskers-trimmed mice vs. controls. After whisker trimming for a week, the intrinsic properties of pyramidal neurons and the transmission of excitatory synapses were upregulated in the barrel cortex, but inhibitory neurons and GABAergic synapses were downregulated. The morphological analyses indicated that the number of processes and spines in pyramidal neurons increased, whereas the processes of GABAergic neurons decreased in the barrel cortex. The upregulation of excitatory neurons and the downregulation of inhibitory neurons boost the activity of network neurons in the barrel cortex to be high levels, which prevent the loss of their functions and enhances their sensitivity to sensory inputs. These changes may prepare for attracting the innervations from sensory cortices and/or peripheral nerves for other modalities during cross-modal plasticity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Postsynaptic potential, Cerebral cortex, Pyramidal cell, Desensitization, Downregulation and upregulation, Neuron, Action potential


Artificial neuromorphic systems based on populations of spiking neurons are an indispensable tool in understanding the human brain and in constructing neuromimetic computational systems. To reach areal and power efficiencies comparable to those seen in biological systems, electroionics-based and phase-change-based memristive devices have been explored as nanoscale counterparts of synapses. However, progress on scalable realizations of neurons has so far been limited. Here, we show that chalcogenide-based phase-change materials can be used to create an artificial neuron in which the membrane potential is represented by the phase configuration of the nanoscale phase-change device. By exploiting the physics of reversible amorphous-to-crystal phase transitions, we show that the temporal integration of postsynaptic potentials can be achieved on a nanosecond timescale. Moreover, we show that this is inherently stochastic because of the melt-quench-induced reconfiguration of the atomic structure occurring when the neuron is reset. We demonstrate the use of these phase-change neurons, and their populations, in the detection of temporal correlations in parallel data streams and in sub-Nyquist representation of high-bandwidth signals.

Concepts: Postsynaptic potential, Nervous system, Cerebellum, Cerebral cortex, Human brain, Action potential, Brain, Neuron


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


The ability to visualize endogenous proteins in living neurons provides a powerful means to interrogate neuronal structure and function. Here we generate recombinant antibody-like proteins, termed Fibronectin intrabodies generated with mRNA display (FingRs), that bind endogenous neuronal proteins PSD-95 and Gephyrin with high affinity and that, when fused to GFP, allow excitatory and inhibitory synapses to be visualized in living neurons. Design of the FingR incorporates a transcriptional regulation system that ties FingR expression to the level of the target and reduces background fluorescence. In dissociated neurons and brain slices, FingRs generated against PSD-95 and Gephyrin did not affect the expression patterns of their endogenous target proteins or the number or strength of synapses. Together, our data indicate that PSD-95 and Gephyrin FingRs can report the localization and amount of endogenous synaptic proteins in living neurons and thus may be used to study changes in synaptic strength in vivo.

Concepts: Brain, Chemical synapse, Molecular biology, Postsynaptic potential, Synapse, DNA, Gene expression, Action potential


Protein kinase C epsilon (PKCε) promotes synaptic maturation and synaptogenesis via activation of synaptic growth factors such as BDNF, NGF, and IGF. However, many of the detailed mechanisms by which PKCε induces synaptogenesis are not fully understood. Accumulation of PSD-95 to the postsynaptic density (PSD) is known to lead to synaptic maturation and strengthening of excitatory synapses. Here we investigated the relationship between PKCε and PSD-95.We show that the PKCε activators DCPLA-ME and bryostatin 1 induce phosphorylation of PSD-95 at the serine-295 residue, increase the levels of PSD-95, and enhance its membrane localization. Elimination of the serine-295 residue in PSD-95 abolished PKCε-induced membrane accumulation. Knockdown of either PKCε or JNK1 prevented PKCε activator-mediated membrane accumulation of PSD-95. PKCε directly phosphorylated PSD-95 and JNK1 in vitro. Inhibiting PKCε, JNK, or CaMKII activity prevented the effects of PKCε activators on PSD-95 phosphorylation. Increase in membrane accumulation of PKCε and phosphorylated PSD-95 (p-PSD-95S295) coincided with increased number of synapses and increased amplitudes of excitatory post-synaptic potentials (EPSPs) in adult rat hippocampal slices. Knockdown of PKCε also reduced the synthesis of PSD-95 and the presynaptic protein synaptophysin by 30% and 44% respectively. Prolonged activation of PKCε increased synapse number by 2-fold, increased presynaptic vesicle density, and greatly increased PSD-95 clustering.These results indicate that PKCε promotes synaptogenesis by activating PSD-95 phosphorylation directly, through JNK1 and CaMKII, and also by inducing expression of PSD-95 and synaptophysin.

Concepts: Adenosine triphosphate, Synaptic vesicle, Neurophysiology, Long-term potentiation, Action potential, Postsynaptic potential, Chemical synapse, Signal transduction


Adult-born neurons are continually produced in the dentate gyrus but it is unclear whether synaptic integration of new neurons affects the pre-existing circuit. Here we investigated how manipulating neurogenesis in adult mice alters excitatory synaptic transmission to mature dentate neurons. Enhancing neurogenesis by conditional deletion of the pro-apoptotic gene Bax in stem cells reduced excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) and spine density in mature neurons, whereas genetic ablation of neurogenesis increased EPSCs in mature neurons. Unexpectedly, we found that Bax deletion in developing and mature dentate neurons increased EPSCs and prevented neurogenesis-induced synaptic suppression. Together these results show that neurogenesis modifies synaptic transmission to mature neurons in a manner consistent with a redistribution of pre-existing synapses to newly integrating neurons and that a non-apoptotic function of the Bax signaling pathway contributes to ongoing synaptic refinement within the dentate circuit.

Concepts: Stem cell, Postsynaptic potential, Synapse, Action potential, Chemical synapse, Dentate gyrus, Neuron, Neurogenesis


CA3-CA3 recurrent excitatory synapses are thought to play a key role in memory storage and pattern completion. Whether the plasticity properties of these synapses are consistent with their proposed network functions remains unclear. Here, we examine the properties of spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) at CA3-CA3 synapses. Low-frequency pairing of excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) and action potentials (APs) induces long-term potentiation (LTP), independent of temporal order. The STDP curve is symmetric and broad (half-width ∼150 ms). Consistent with these STDP induction properties, AP-EPSP sequences lead to supralinear summation of spine [Ca(2+)] transients. Furthermore, afterdepolarizations (ADPs) following APs efficiently propagate into dendrites of CA3 pyramidal neurons, and EPSPs summate with dendritic ADPs. In autoassociative network models, storage and recall are more robust with symmetric than with asymmetric STDP rules. Thus, a specialized STDP induction rule allows reliable storage and recall of information in the hippocampal CA3 network.

Concepts: Cellular neuroscience, Neurophysiology, Chemical synapse, Excitatory postsynaptic potential, Postsynaptic potential, Neuron, Action potential, Long-term potentiation


Stressful experiences potently activate kappa opioid receptors (κORs). κORs in the ventral tegmental area regulate multiple aspects of dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic cell function. Here we show that at GABAergic synapses on rat VTA dopamine neurons, a single exposure to a brief cold-water swim stress induces prolonged activation of κORs. This is mediated by activation of the receptor during the stressor followed by a persistent, ligand-independent constitutive activation of the κOR itself. This lasting change in function is not seen at κORs at neighboring excitatory synapses, suggesting distinct time courses and mechanisms of regulation of different subsets of κORs. We also provide evidence that constitutive activity of κORs governs the prolonged reinstatement to cocaine-seeking observed after cold water swim stress. Together, our studies indicate that stress-induced constitutive activation is a novel mechanism of κOR regulation that plays a critical role in reinstatement of drug seeking.

Concepts: Butorphanol, Postsynaptic potential, Ventral tegmental area, Dopamine, Action potential, Opioid receptor


Mossy fiber synapses on CA3 pyramidal cells are ‘conditional detonators’ that reliably discharge postsynaptic targets. The ‘conditional’ nature implies that burst activity in dentate gyrus granule cells is required for detonation. Whether single unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) trigger spikes in CA3 neurons remains unknown. Mossy fiber synapses exhibit both pronounced short-term facilitation and uniquely large post-tetanic potentiation (PTP). We tested whether PTP could convert mossy fiber synapses from subdetonator into detonator mode, using a recently developed method to selectively and noninvasively stimulate individual presynaptic terminals in rat brain slices. Unitary EPSPs failed to initiate a spike in CA3 neurons under control conditions, but reliably discharged them after induction of presynaptic short-term plasticity. Remarkably, PTP switched mossy fiber synapses into full detonators for tens of seconds. Plasticity-dependent detonation may be critical for efficient coding, storage, and recall of information in the granule cell-CA3 cell network.

Concepts: Brain, Pyramidal cell, Granule cell, Postsynaptic potential, Chemical synapse, Long-term potentiation, Neuron, Action potential