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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


Dendritic spines represent the major postsynaptic input of excitatory synapses. Loss of spines and changes in their morphology correlate with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and are thought to occur early during pathology. Therapeutic intervention at a preclinical stage of AD to modify spine changes might thus be warranted. To follow the development and to potentially interfere with spine changes over time, we established a long term ex vivo model from organotypic cultures of the hippocampus from APP transgenic and control mice. The cultures exhibit spine loss in principal hippocampal neurons, which closely resembles the changes occurring in vivo, and spine morphology progressively changes from mushroom-shaped to stubby. We demonstrate that spine changes are completely reversed within few days after blocking amyloid-β (Aβ) production with the gamma-secretase inhibitor DAPT. We show that the microtubule disrupting drug nocodazole leads to spine loss similar to Aβ expressing cultures and suppresses DAPT-mediated spine recovery in slices from APP transgenic mice. Finally, we report that epothilone D (EpoD) at a subnanomolar concentration, which slightly stabilizes microtubules in model neurons, completely reverses Aβ-induced spine loss and increases thin spine density. Taken together the data indicate that Aβ causes spine changes by microtubule destabilization and that spine recovery requires microtubule polymerization. Moreover, our results suggest that a low, subtoxic concentration of EpoD is sufficient to reduce spine loss during the preclinical stage of AD.

Concepts: Postsynaptic potential, Brain, Alzheimer's disease, Dendritic spine, Hippocampus, Neuron, Action potential, Long-term potentiation


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


Precise coordination of synaptic connections ensures proper information flow within circuits. The activity of presynaptic organizing molecules signaling to downstream pathways is essential for such coordination, though such entities remain incompletely known. We show that LRP4, a conserved transmembrane protein known for its postsynaptic roles, functions presynaptically as an organizing molecule. In the Drosophila brain, LRP4 localizes to the nerve terminals at or near active zones. Loss of presynaptic LRP4 reduces excitatory (not inhibitory) synapse number, impairs active zone architecture, and abolishes olfactory attraction - the latter of which can be suppressed by reducing presynaptic GABAB receptors. LRP4 overexpression increases synapse number in excitatory and inhibitory neurons, suggesting an instructive role and a common downstream synapse addition pathway. Mechanistically, LRP4 functions via the conserved kinase SRPK79D to ensure normal synapse number and behavior. This highlights a presynaptic function for LRP4, enabling deeper understanding of how synapse organization is coordinated.

Concepts: Neurotransmitter, Protein, Postsynaptic potential, Signal transduction, Synapse, Chemical synapse, Neuron, Action potential


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


At excitatory and inhibitory synapses, an immediate transfer of additional neurotransmitter receptors from non-synaptic positions to the synapse mediates synaptic long-term potentiation (LTP). Different types of non-synaptic reserve pools permit the rapid supply of transmembrane neurotransmitter receptors. Recycling endosomes (REs) serve as an intracellular reservoir of receptors that is delivered to the plasma membrane on LTP induction. Furthermore, AMPA receptors at the non-synaptic plasma membrane provide an extrasynaptic reserve pool that is also important to potentiate synapse function. Finally, bidirectional synaptic versus extrasynaptic trapping of freely diffusing plasma membrane GABAA receptors (GABAARs) by scaffolding proteins modulates synaptic transmission. Here we discuss novel findings regarding neurotransmitter receptor reservoirs and potential reserve pool mechanisms for synaptic potentiation.

Concepts: Cell membrane, Neurophysiology, Protein, Postsynaptic potential, Signal transduction, Neurotransmitter, Long-term potentiation, Action potential


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


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