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1.  Hearing Loss Prevents the Maturation of GABAergic Transmission in the Auditory Cortex 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2008;18(9):2098-2108.
Inhibitory neurotransmission is a critical determinant of neuronal network gain and dynamic range, suggesting that network properties are shaped by activity during development. A previous study demonstrated that sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in gerbils leads to smaller inhibitory potentials in L2/3 pyramidal neurons in the thalamorecipient auditory cortex, ACx. Here, we explored the mechanisms that account for proper maturation of γ-amino butyric acid (GABA)ergic transmission. SNHL was induced at postnatal day (P) 10, and whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings were obtained from layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in thalamocortical slices at P16–19. SNHL led to an increase in the frequency of GABAzine-sensitive (antagonist) spontaneous (s) and miniature (m) inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs), accompanied by diminished amplitudes and longer durations. Consistent with this, the amplitudes of minimum-evoked IPSCs were also reduced while their durations were longer. The α1- and β2/3 subunit–specific agonists zolpidem and loreclezole increased control but not SNHL sIPSC durations. To test whether SNHL affected the maturation of GABAergic transmission, sIPSCs were recorded at P10. These sIPSCs resembled the long SNHL sIPSCs. Furthermore, zolpidem and loreclezole were ineffective in increasing their durations. Together, these data strongly suggest that the presynaptic release properties and expression of key postsynaptic GABAA receptor subunits are coregulated by hearing.
PMCID: PMC2517109  PMID: 18222937
α1 and β2/3 subunits; auditory cortex; development; GABAA receptor; hearing impairment
2.  Bone cancer induces a unique central sensitization through synaptic changes in a wide area of the spinal cord 
Molecular Pain  2010;6:38.
Chronic bone cancer pain is thought to be partly due to central sensitization. Although murine models of bone cancer pain revealed significant neurochemical changes in the spinal cord, it is not known whether this produces functional alterations in spinal sensory synaptic transmission. In this study, we examined excitatory synaptic responses evoked in substantia gelatinosa (SG, lamina II) neurons in spinal cord slices of adult mice bearing bone cancer, using whole-cell voltage-clamp recording techniques.
Mice at 14 to 21 days after sarcoma implantation into the femur exhibited hyperalgesia to mechanical stimuli applied to the skin of the ipsilateral hind paw, as well as showing spontaneous and movement evoked pain-related behaviors. SG neurons exhibited spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). The amplitudes of spontaneous EPSCs were significantly larger in cancer-bearing than control mice without any changes in passive membrane properties of SG neurons. In the presence of TTX, the amplitude of miniature EPSCs in SG neurons was increased in cancer-bearing mice and this was observed for cells sampled across a wide range of lumbar segmental levels. Alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor- and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated EPSCs evoked by focal stimulation were also enhanced in cancer-bearing mice. Dorsal root stimulation elicited mono- and/or polysynaptic EPSCs that were caused by the activation of Aδ and/or C afferent fibers in SG neurons from both groups of animals. The number of cells receiving monosynaptic inputs from Aδ and C fibers was not different between the two groups. However, the amplitude of the monosynaptic C fiber-evoked EPSCs and the number of SG neurons receiving polysynaptic inputs from Aδ and C fibers were increased in cancer-bearing mice.
These results show that spinal synaptic transmission mediated through Aδ and C fibers is enhanced in the SG across a wide area of lumbar levels following sarcoma implantation in the femur. This widespread spinal sensitization may be one of the underlying mechanisms for the development of chronic bone cancer pain.
PMCID: PMC3020802  PMID: 20602757
3.  A comparison of release kinetics and glutamate receptor properties in shaping rod–cone differences in EPSC kinetics in the salamander retina 
The Journal of physiology  2005;569(Pt 3):773-788.
Synaptic transmission from cones is faster than transmission from rods. Using paired simultaneous recordings from photoreceptors and second-order neurones in the salamander retina, we studied the contributions of rod–cone differences in glutamate receptor properties and synaptic release rates to shaping postsynaptic responses. Depolarizing steps evoked sustained calcium currents in rods and cones that in turn produced transient excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in horizontal and OFF bipolar cells. Cone-driven EPSCs rose and decayed faster than rod-driven EPSCs, even when comparing inputs from a rod and cone onto the same postsynaptic neurone. Thus, rod–cone differences in EPSCs reflect properties of individual rod and cone synapses. Experiments with selective AMPA and KA agonists and antagonists showed that rods and cones both contact pharmacologically similar AMPA receptors. Spontaneous miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) exhibited unimodal distributions of amplitude and half-amplitude time width and there were no rod–cone differences in mEPSC properties. To examine how release kinetics shape the EPSC, we convolved mEPSC waveforms with empirically determined release rate functions for rods and cones. The predicted EPSC waveform closely matched the actual EPSC evoked by cones, supporting a quantal release model at the photoreceptor synapse. Convolution with the rod release function also produced a good match in rod-driven cells, although the actual EPSC was often somewhat slower than the predicted EPSC, a discrepancy partly explained by rod–rod coupling. Rod–cone differences in the rates of exocytosis are thus a major factor in producing faster cone-driven responses in second-order retinal neurones.
PMCID: PMC1383429  PMID: 16223761
4.  Hearing Loss Alters Quantal Release at Cochlear Nucleus Stellate Cells 
The Laryngoscope  2010;120(10):2047-2053.
Auditory nerve synapses in ventral cochlear nucleus end on two principal cell types, bushy and stellate cells. While the effects of hearing loss on bushy cells has been well studied, little is known about the effects of hearing loss on synaptic input to the stellate cells. Based on prior observations in bushy cells, we hypothesized that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) would decrease quantal release onto stellate cells.
Study Design
Prospective, randomized animal study.
CBA/CaJ mice were exposed for 2 hours to 98dBSPL 8–16kHz noise to produce a temporary threshold shift (TTS), or 114dBSPL to produce a permanent threshold shift (PTS). Spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) were then measured in stellate cells in brain slices of the cochlear nucleus.
Click-evoked auditory brainstem evoked response thresholds were elevated by 35dB in both TTS and PTS mice. Spontaneous mEPSC frequency was found to be five-fold higher than normal in stellate cells of TTS mice and 3-fold higher in PTS mice. mEPSC amplitude was also larger in PTS mice. The mEPSC time course was not different between experimental and control groups.
The dramatic increase in mEPSC frequency after NIHL was not expected. The increase in mEPSC amplitude in PTS mice suggests a post-synaptic remodeling process. Both of these effects could contribute to increased spontaneous firing in the cochlear nucleus in the absence of sound. Our results also suggest that hearing loss may have different effects at auditory nerve synapses on bushy and stellate cells in the VCN.
Level of Evidence
Not applicable.
PMCID: PMC3091373  PMID: 20824788
5.  Differential effects of mGluR7 and mGluR8 activation on pain-related synaptic activity in the amygdala 
Neuropharmacology  2011;61(8):1334-1344.
Pain-related plasticity in the latero-capsular division of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeLC) depends on the activation of group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) whereas groups II and III mGluRs generally serve inhibitory functions. Recent evidence suggests differential roles of group III subtypes mGluR7 (pain enhancing) and mGluR8 (pain inhibiting) in the amygdala (Palazzo et al., 2008). Here we addressed the underlying synaptic mechanisms of mGluR7 and mGluR8 function in the CeLC under normal conditions and in an arthritis pain model. Using patch-clamp recordings in rat brain slices, we measured monosynaptic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs), mono- and polysynaptic inhibitory synaptic currents (IPSCs), and synaptically evoked action potentials (E-S coupling) in CeLC neurons. Synaptic responses were evoked by electrical stimulation in the basolateral amygdala (BLA). A selective mGluR8 agonist (DCPG) inhibited evoked EPSCs and synaptic spiking more potently in slices from arthritic rats than in slices from normal rats. In contrast, a selective mGluR7 agonist (AMN082) increased EPSCs and E-S coupling in slices from normal rats but not in the pain model. The effects of AMN082 and DCPG were blocked by a group III antagonist (MAP4). AMN082 increased frequency, but not amplitude, of spontaneous EPSCs but had no effect on miniature EPSCs (in TTX). DCPG decreased frequency, but not amplitude, of spontaneous and miniature EPSCs. The data suggest that mGluR8 acts presynaptically to inhibit excitatory transmission whereas the facilitatory effects of mGluR7 are indirect through action potential-dependent network action. AMN082 decreased evoked IPSCs and frequency, but not amplitude, of spontaneous and miniature IPSCs in slices from normal rats. DCPG had no effect on inhibitory transmission. The results suggest that presynaptic mGluR7 inhibits inhibitory synaptic transmission to gate glutamatergic transmission to CeLC neurons under normal conditions but not in pain. Presynaptic mGluR8 inhibits pain-related enhanced excitatory transmission in the CeLC.
PMCID: PMC3189345  PMID: 21854791
6.  Homeostatic Plasticity Studied Using In Vivo Hippocampal Activity-Blockade: Synaptic Scaling, Intrinsic Plasticity and Age-Dependence 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e700.
Homeostatic plasticity is thought to be important in preventing neuronal circuits from becoming hyper- or hypoactive. However, there is little information concerning homeostatic mechanisms following in vivo manipulations of activity levels. We investigated synaptic scaling and intrinsic plasticity in CA1 pyramidal cells following 2 days of activity-blockade in vivo in adult (postnatal day 30; P30) and juvenile (P15) rats. Chronic activity-blockade in vivo was achieved using the sustained release of the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin (TTX) from the plastic polymer Elvax 40W implanted directly above the hippocampus, followed by electrophysiological assessment in slices in vitro. Three sets of results were in general agreement with previous studies on homeostatic responses to in vitro manipulations of activity. First, Schaffer collateral stimulation-evoked field responses were enhanced after 2 days of in vivo TTX application. Second, miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (mEPSC) amplitudes were potentiated. However, the increase in mEPSC amplitudes occurred only in juveniles, and not in adults, indicating age-dependent effects. Third, intrinsic neuronal excitability increased. In contrast, three sets of results sharply differed from previous reports on homeostatic responses to in vitro manipulations of activity. First, miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current (mIPSC) amplitudes were invariably enhanced. Second, multiplicative scaling of mEPSC and mIPSC amplitudes was absent. Third, the frequencies of adult and juvenile mEPSCs and adult mIPSCs were increased, indicating presynaptic alterations. These results provide new insights into in vivo homeostatic plasticity mechanisms with relevance to memory storage, activity-dependent development and neurological diseases.
PMCID: PMC1933594  PMID: 17684547
7.  The Subthalamic Nucleus becomes a Generator of Bursts in the Dopamine-Depleted State. Its High Frequency Stimulation Dramatically Weakens Transmission to the Globus Pallidus 
Excessive burst firing in the dopamine-depleted basal ganglia correlates with severe motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease that are attenuated by high frequency electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN). Here we test the hypothesis that pathological bursts in dopamine-deprived basal ganglia are generated within the STN and transmitted to globus pallidus neurons. To answer this question we recorded excitatory synaptic currents and potentials from subthalamic and pallidal neurons in the basal ganglia slice (BGS) from dopamine-depleted mice while continuously blocking GABAA receptors. In control mice, a single electrical stimulus delivered to the internal capsule or the rostral pole of the STN evoked a short duration, small amplitude, monosynaptic EPSC in subthalamic neurons. In contrast, in the dopamine-depleted BGS, this monosynaptic EPSC was amplified and followed by a burst of polysynaptic EPSCs that eventually reverberated three to seven times, providing a long lasting response that gave rise to bursts of EPSCs and spikes in GP neurons. Repetitive (10–120 Hz) stimulation delivered to the STN in the dopamine-depleted BGS attenuated STN-evoked bursts of EPSCs in pallidal neurons after several minutes of stimulation but only high frequency (90–120 Hz) stimulation replaced them with small amplitude EPSCs at 20 Hz. We propose that the polysynaptic pathway within the STN amplifies subthalamic responses to incoming excitation in the dopamine-depleted basal ganglia, thereby transforming the STN into a burst generator and entraining pallidal neurons in pathogenic bursting activities. High frequency stimulation of the STN prevents the transmission of this pathological activity to globus pallidus and imposes a new glutamatergic synaptic noise on pallidal neurons.
PMCID: PMC3115486  PMID: 21716635
basal ganglia; subthalamic nucleus; Parkinson; high frequency stimulation; burst firing; basal ganglia slice
Neuroscience  2012;221:157-169.
Kainate receptors containing the GluK1 subunit (GluK1Rs; previously known as GluR5 kainate receptors) are concentrated in certain brain regions, where they play a prominent role in the regulation of neuronal excitability, by modulating GABAergic and/or glutamatergic synaptic transmission. In the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), which plays a central role in anxiety as well as in seizure generation, GluK1Rs modulate GABAergic inhibition via postsynaptic and presynaptic mechanisms. However, the role of these receptors in the regulation of glutamate release, and the net effect of their activation on the excitability of the BLA network are not well understood. Here, we show that in amygdala slices from 35 to 50 day-old rats, the GluK1 agonist ATPA (300 nM) increased the frequency of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs) and miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) recorded from BLA principal neurons, and decreased the rate of failures of evoked EPSCs. The GluK1 antagonist UBP302 (25 or 30 μM) decreased the frequency of mEPSCs, reduced evoked field potentials, and increased the “paired-pulse ratio” of the field potential amplitudes. Taken together, these results suggest that GluK1Rs in the rat BLA are present on presynaptic terminals of principal neurons, where they mediate facilitation of glutamate release. In vivo bilateral microinjections of ATPA (250 pmol) into the rat BLA increased anxiety-like behavior in the open field test, while 2 nmol ATPA induced seizures. Similar intra-BLA injections of UBP302 (20 nmol) had anxiolytic effects in the open field and the acoustic startle response tests, without affecting pre-pulse inhibition. These results suggest that although GluK1Rs in the rat BLA facilitate both GABA and glutamate release, the facilitation of glutamate release prevails, and these receptors can have an anxiogenic and seizurogenic net function. Presynaptic facilitation of glutamate release may, in part, underlie the hyperexcitability-promoting effects of GluK1R activation in the rat BLA.
PMCID: PMC3443632  PMID: 22796081
GluK1 kainate receptors; basolateral amygdala; presynaptic glutamate release; anxiety; seizures
9.  Channel-mediated astrocytic glutamate release via Bestrophin-1 targets synaptic NMDARs 
Molecular Brain  2013;6:4.
Astrocytes regulate neuronal excitability and synaptic activity by releasing gliotransmitters such as glutamate. Our recent study demonstrated that astrocytes release glutamate upon GPCR activation via Ca2+ activated anion channel, Bestrophin-1 (Best1). The target of Best1-mediated astrocytic glutamate has been shown to be the neuronal NMDA receptors (NMDAR). However, whether it targets synaptically or extra-synaptically localized NMDAR is not known.
We recorded spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) from CA1 pyramidal cells to test whether Best1-mediated astrocytic glutamate targets synaptic NMDAR. An agonist of protease activated receptor 1 (PAR1) was used to induce astrocytic Ca2+ increase and glutamate release. Firstly, we found that activation of PAR1 and subsequent release of glutamate from astrocyte does not alone increase the frequency of mEPSCs. Secondly, we found that mEPSC rise time is variable depending on the different electrotonic distances from the somatic recording site to the synaptic region where each mEPSC occurs. Two subgroups of mEPSC from CA1 pyramidal neuron by rise time were selected and analyzed. One group is fast rising mEPSCs with a rise time of 1 ~ 5 ms, representing synaptic activities arising from proximal dendrites. The other group is slowly rising mEPSCs with a rise time of 5 ~ 10 ms, representing synaptic events arising from glutamate release at synapses located in the distal dendrites. We used cell-type specific Best1 gene silencing system by Cre-loxP cleavage to dissociate the effect of neuronal and astrocytic Best1. Astrocytic Best1-mediated glutamate release by PAR1 activation did not affect decay kinetics, frequency, and amplitude of fast rising mEPSC. In contrast, PAR1 activation resulted in an NMDA receptor component to be present on slowly rising mEPSC, but did not alter frequency or amplitude.
Our results indicate that astrocytic glutamate via Best1 channel targets and activates synaptic NMDARs.
PMCID: PMC3577500  PMID: 23324492
Astrocyte; Bestrophin-1; mEPSC; NMDAR
10.  Multivesicular Release Underlies Short Term Synaptic Potentiation Independent of Release Probability Change in the Supraoptic Nucleus 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e77402.
Magnocellular neurons of the supraoptic nucleus receive glutamatergic excitatory inputs that regulate the firing activity and hormone release from these neurons. A strong, brief activation of these excitatory inputs induces a lingering barrage of tetrodotoxin-resistant miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) that lasts for tens of minutes. This is known to accompany an immediate increase in large amplitude mEPSCs. However, it remains unknown how long this amplitude increase can last and whether it is simply a byproduct of greater release probability. Using in vitro patch clamp recording on acute rat brain slices, we found that a brief, high frequency stimulation (HFS) of afferents induced a potentiation of mEPSC amplitude lasting up to 20 min. This amplitude potentiation did not correlate with changes in mEPSC frequency, suggesting that it does not reflect changes in presynaptic release probability. Nonetheless, neither postsynaptic calcium chelator nor the NMDA receptor antagonist blocked the potentiation. Together with the known calcium dependency of HFS-induced potentiation of mEPSCs, our results imply that mEPSC amplitude increase requires presynaptic calcium. Further analysis showed multimodal distribution of mEPSC amplitude, suggesting that large mEPSCs were due to multivesicular glutamate release, even at late post-HFS when the frequency is no longer elevated. In conclusion, high frequency activation of excitatory synapses induces lasting multivesicular release in the SON, which is independent of changes in release probability. This represents a novel form of synaptic plasticity that may contribute to prolonged excitatory tone necessary for generation of burst firing of magnocellular neurons.
PMCID: PMC3782434  PMID: 24086774
Neuroscience  2007;146(2):792-801.
Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) is a prototypical inflammatory mediator that excites and sensitizes cell bodies (Kwong and Lee, 2002; 2005) and peripheral nerve terminals (Ho et al. 2000) of primary vagal sensory neurons. Nearly all central nerve terminals of vagal afferents are in the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), where they operate with a high probability of release (Doyle and Andresen, 2001). We studied the effect of PGE2 on synaptic transmission between tractus solitarius afferent nerve terminals and the second order NTS neurons in brain stem slices of Sprague Dawley rats. Whole-cell patch recording in voltage clamp mode was used to study evoked excitatory postsynaptic glutamatergic currents (evEPSCs) from NTS neurons elicited by electrical stimulation of the solitary tract (ST). In 34 neurons, bath applied PGE2 (200 nM) decreased the evEPSC amplitude by 49 ± 5 %. In 22 neurons, however, PGE2 had no effect. We also tested 15 NTS neurons for capsaicin sensitivity. Seven neurons generated evEPSCs that were equally unaffected by PGE2 and capsaicin. Conversely, evEPSCs of the other 8 neurons, which were PGE2-responsive, were abolished by 200 nM capsaicin. Furthermore, the PGE2-induced depression of evEPSCs was associated with an increase in the paired pulse ratio and a decrease in both the frequency and amplitude of the spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs) and TTX-independent spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs). These results suggest that PGE2 acts both presynaptically on nerve terminals and postsynaptically on NTS neurons to reduce glutamatergic responses.
PMCID: PMC2562673  PMID: 17367942
Glutamate; AMPA receptors; Presynaptic; Postsynaptic
Journal of neurochemistry  2008;107(4):1001-1013.
Ethanol exposure during fetal development is a leading cause of long-term cognitive impairments. Studies suggest that ethanol exposure have deleterious effects on the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for learning and memory. Ethanol exerts its effects, in part, via alterations in glutamatergic neurotransmission, which is critical for the maturation of neuronal circuits during development. The current literature strongly supports the growing evidence that ethanol inhibits glutamate release in the neonatal CA1 hippocampal region. However, the exact molecular mechanism responsible for this effect is not well understood. In this study, we show that ethanol enhances endocannabinoid (EC) levels in cultured hippocampal neurons, possibly through calcium pathways. Acute ethanol depresses miniature postsynaptic current (mEPSC) frequencies without affecting their amplitude. This suggests that ethanol inhibits glutamate release. The CB1 receptors (CB1Rs) present on presynaptic neurons are not altered by acute ethanol. The CB1R antagonist SR 141716A reverses ethanol-induced depression of mEPSC frequency. Drugs that are known to enhance the in vivo function of ECs occlude ethanol effects on mEPSC frequency. Chelation of postsynaptic calcium by EGTA antagonizes ethanol-induced depression of mEPSC frequency. The activation of CB1R with the selective agonist WIN55,212-2 also suppresses the mEPSC frequency. This WIN55,212-2 effect is similar to the ethanol effects and is reversed by SR141716A. In addition, tetani-induced excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) are depressed by acute ethanol. SR141716A significantly reverses ethanol effects on evoked EPSC amplitude in a dual recording preparation. These observations, taken together, suggest the participation of ECs as retrograde messengers in the ethanol-induced depression of synaptic activities.
PMCID: PMC2585363  PMID: 18796007
Development; FASD; hippocampal neurons; ethanol; endocannabinoids; retrograde messenger activity
13.  GCP II (NAALADase) Inhibition Suppresses Mossy Fiber-CA3 Synaptic Neurotransmission by a Presynaptic Mechanism 
Journal of neurophysiology  2003;91(1):182-193.
We tested the hypothesis that endogenous N-acetylaspartylglutamate (NAAG) presynaptically inhibits glutamate release at mossy fiber-CA3 synapses. For this purpose, we made use of 2-(3-mercaptopropyl)pentanedioic acid (2-MPPA), an inhibitor of glutamate carboxypeptidase II [GCP II; also known as N-acetylated alpha-linked acidic dipeptidase (NAALADase)], the enzyme that hydrolyzes NAAG into N-acetylaspartate and glutamate. Application of 2-MPPA (1–20 μM) had no effect on intrinsic membrane properties of CA3 pyramidal neurons recorded in vitro in whole cell current- or voltage-clamp mode. Bath application of 10 μM 2-MPPA suppressed evoked excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) amplitudes. Attenuation of EPSC amplitudes was accompanied by a significant increase in paired-pulse facilitation (50-ms interpulse intervals), suggesting that a presynaptic mechanism is involved. The group II metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) antagonist 2S-2-amino-2-(1S,2S-2-carboxycyclopropyl-1-yl)-3-(xanth-9-y l) propanoic acid (LY341495) prevented the 2-MPPA-dependent suppression of EPSC amplitudes. 2-MPPA reduced the frequencies of TTX-insensitive miniature EPSCs (mEPSC), without affecting their amplitudes, further supporting a presynaptic action for GCP II inhibition. 2-MPPA-induced reduction of mEPSC frequencies was prevented by LY341495, reinforcing the role of presynaptic group II mGluR. Because GCP II inhibition is thought to increase NAAG levels, these results suggest that NAAG suppresses synaptic transmission at mossy fiber-CA3 synapses through presynaptic activation of group II mGluRs.
PMCID: PMC2810521  PMID: 12917384
14.  Stimulation of α1-Adrenoceptors Reduces Glutamatergic Synaptic Input from Primary Afferents through GABAA Receptors and T-type Ca2+ Channels 
Neuroscience  2008;158(4):1616-1624.
Activation of the descending noradrenergic system inhibits nociceptive transmission in the spinal cord. Although both α1- and α2-adrenoceptors in the spinal cord are involved in the modulation of nociceptive transmission, it is not clear how α1-adrenoceptors regulate excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission at the spinal level. In this study, inhibitory and excitatory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs and EPSCs, respectively) were recorded from lamina Π neurons in rat spinal cord slices. The specific α1-adrenoceptor agonist phenylephrine significantly increased the frequency of GABAergic spontaneous IPSCs in a concentration dependent manner, and this effect was abolished by the α1-adrenoceptor antagonist WB4101. Phenylephrine also significantly reduced the amplitude of monosynaptic and polysynaptic EPSCs evoked from primary afferents. The inhibitory effect of phenylephrine on evoked monosynaptic glutamatergic EPSCs was largely blocked by the GABAA receptor antagonist picrotoxin and, to a lesser extent, by the GABAB receptor antagonist CGP55845. Furthermore, blocking T-type Ca2+ channels with amiloride or mibefradil diminished the inhibitory effect produced by phenylephrine or the GABAA receptor agonist muscimol on monosynaptic EPSCs evoked from primary afferents. Collectively, these findings suggest that activation of α1-adrenoceptors in the spinal cord increases synaptic GABA release, which attenuates glutamatergic input from primary afferents mainly through GABAA receptors and T-type Ca2+ channels. This mechanism of presynaptic inhibition in the spinal cord may be involved in the regulation of nociception by the descending noradrenergic system.
PMCID: PMC2663359  PMID: 19068225
α1-adrenoceptors; descending noradrenergic modulation; presynaptic inhibition; spinal cord; GABAA receptors; GABAB receptors
15.  A transcription-dependent increase in miniature EPSC frequency accompanies late-phase plasticity in cultured hippocampal neurons 
BMC Neuroscience  2009;10:124.
The magnitude and longevity of synaptic activity-induced changes in synaptic efficacy is quantified by measuring evoked responses whose potentiation requires gene transcription to persist for more than 2-3 hours. While miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) are also increased in amplitude and/or frequency during long-term potentiation (LTP), it is not known how long such changes persist or whether gene transcription is required.
We use whole-cell patch clamp recordings from dissociated hippocampal cultures to characterise for the first time the persistence and transcription dependency of mEPSC upregulation during synaptic potentiation. The persistence of recurrent action potential bursting in these cultures is transcription-, translation- and NMDA receptor-dependent thus providing an accessible model for long-lasting plasticity. Blockade of GABAA-receptors with bicuculline for 15 minutes induced action potential bursting in all neurons and was maintained in 50-60% of neurons for more than 6 hours. Throughout this period, the frequency but neither the amplitude of mEPSCs nor whole-cell AMPA currents was markedly increased. The transcription blocker actinomycin D abrogated, within 2 hours of burst induction, both action potential bursting and the increase in mEPSCs. Reversible blockade of action potentials during, but not after this 2 hour transcription period suppressed the increase in mEPSC frequency and the recovery of burst activity at a time point 6 hours after induction.
These results indicate that increased mEPSC frequency persists well beyond the 2 hour transcription-independent phase of plasticity in this model. This long-lasting mEPSC upregulation is transcription-dependent and requires ongoing action potential activity during the initial 2 hour period but not thereafter. Thus mEPSC upregulation may underlie the long term, transcription-dependent persistence of action potential bursting. This provides mechanistic insight to link gene candidates already identified by gene chip analysis to long lasting plasticity in this in vitro model.
PMCID: PMC2763873  PMID: 19788723
16.  Group II metabotropic glutamate receptors inhibit glutamate release at thalamocortical synapses in the developing somatosensory cortex 
Neuroscience  2007;146(3):1062-1072.
Thalamocortical synapses provide a strong glutamatergic excitation to cortical neurons that is critical for processing sensory information. Unit recordings in vivo indicate that metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) reduce the effect of thalamocortical input on cortical circuits. However, it is not known whether this reduction is due to a reduction in glutamate release from thalamocortical terminals or from a decrease in cortical neuron excitability. To directly determine whether mGluRs act as autoreceptors on thalamocortical terminals, we examined the effect of mGluR agonists on thalamocortical synapses in slices. Thalamocortical excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) were recorded in layer IV cortical neurons in developing mouse brain slices. The activation of group II mGluRs with DCG IV reduced thalamocortical EPSCs in both excitatory and inhibitory neurons, while the stimulation of group I or group III mGluRs had no effect on thalamocortical EPSCs. Consistent with a reduction in glutamate release, DCG IV increased the paired pulse ratio and the coefficient of variation of the EPSCs. The reduction induced by DCG IV was reversed by the group II mGluR antagonist, LY341495, and mimicked by another selective group II agonist, APDC. The mGluR2 subtype appears to mediate the reduction of thalamocortical EPSCs, since the selective mGluR3 agonist, NAAG, had no effect on the EPSCs. Consistent with this, we showed that mGluR2 is expressed in the barrels. Furthermore, blocking group II mGluRs with LY341495 reduced the synaptic depression induced by a short stimulus train, indicating that synaptically released glutamate activates these receptors. These results indicate that group II mGluRs modulate thalamocortical processing by inhibiting glutamate release from thalamocortical synapses. This inhibition provides a feedback mechanism for preventing excessive excitation of cortical neurons that could play a role in the plasticity and refinement of thalamocortical connections during this early developmental period.
PMCID: PMC3690373  PMID: 17418955
glutamate; interneurons; barrel cortex
17.  Endogenous Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in the Nucleus Tractus Solitarius Tonically Regulates Synaptic and Autonomic Function 
Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptor, TrkB, are highly expressed in the nucleus tractus solitarius (nTS), the principal target of cardiovascular primary afferent input to the brainstem. However, little is known about the role of BDNF signaling in nTS in cardiovascular homeostasis. We examined whether BDNF in nTS modulates cardiovascular function in vivo and regulates synaptic and/or neuronal activity in isolated brainstem slices. Microinjection of BDNF into the rat medial nTS (mnTS), a region critical for baroreflex control of sympathetic outflow, produced dose-dependent increases in mean arterial pressure (MAP), heart rate (HR) and lumbar sympathetic nerve activity (LSNA) that were blocked by the tyrosine kinase inhibitor K252a. In contrast, immunoneutralization of endogenous BDNF (antiBDNF), or microinjection of K252a alone, decreased MAP, HR and LSNA. The effects of antiBDNF were abolished by blockade of ionotropic glutamate receptors, indicating a role for glutamate signaling in the response to BDNF. In vitro, BDNF reduced the amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) as well as solitary tract (TS)-evoked EPSC amplitude and action potential discharge (APD) in second-order nTS neurons. BDNF effects on EPSCs were independent of GABAergic signaling and ablated by AMPA receptor blockade. In contrast, K252a increased spontaneous EPSC frequency and TS-evoked EPSC amplitude. BDNF also attenuated APD evoked by injection of depolarizing current into second-order neurons, indicating reduced intrinsic neuronal excitability. Our data demonstrate that BDNF signaling in mnTS plays a tonic role in regulating cardiovascular function, likely via modulation of primary afferent glutamatergic excitatory transmission and neural activity.
PMCID: PMC3408222  PMID: 21865474
sympathetic nervous system; synaptic transmission; TrkB
18.  Synaptic GluN2A and GluN2B Containing NMDA Receptors within the Superficial Dorsal Horn Activated following Primary Afferent Stimulation 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(33):10808-10820.
NMDA receptors are important elements in pain signaling in the spinal cord dorsal horn. They are heterotetramers, typically composed of two GluN1 and two of four GluN2 subunits: GluN2A-2D. Mice lacking some of the GluN2 subunits show deficits in pain transmission yet functional synaptic localization of these receptor subtypes in the dorsal horn has not been fully resolved. In this study, we have investigated the composition of synaptic NMDA receptors expressed in monosynaptic and polysynaptic pathways from peripheral sensory fibers to lamina I neurons in rats. We focused on substance P receptor-expressing (NK1R+) projection neurons, critical for expression of hyperalgesia and allodynia. EAB-318 and (R)-CPP, GluN2A/B antagonists, blocked both monosynaptic and polysynaptic NMDA EPSCs initiated by primary afferent activation by ∼90%. Physiological measurements exploiting the voltage dependence of monosynaptic EPSCs similarly indicated dominant expression of GluN2A/B types of synaptic NMDA receptors. In addition, at synapses between C fibers and NK1R+ neurons, NMDA receptor activation initiated a secondary, depolarizing current. Ifenprodil, a GluN2B antagonist, caused modest suppression of monosynaptic NMDA EPSC amplitudes, but had a widely variable, sometimes powerful, effect on polysynaptic responses following primary afferent stimulation when inhibitory inputs were blocked to mimic neuropathic pain. We conclude that GluN2B subunits are moderately expressed at primary afferent synapses on lamina I NK1R+ neurons, but play more important roles for polysynaptic NMDA EPSCs driven by primary afferents following disinhibition, supporting the view that the analgesic effect of the GluN2B antagonist on neuropathic pain is at least in part, within the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC4131007  PMID: 25122884
disinhibition; ifenprodil; NK1 receptor; polysynaptic; spinal cord
19.  Intracellular Ca2+ Stores and Ca2+ Influx Are Both Required for BDNF to Rapidly Increase Quantal Vesicular Transmitter Release 
Neural Plasticity  2012;2012:203536.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is well known as a survival factor during brain development as well as a regulator of adult synaptic plasticity. One potential mechanism to initiate BDNF actions is through its modulation of quantal presynaptic transmitter release. In response to local BDNF application to CA1 pyramidal neurons, the frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSC) increased significantly within 30 seconds; mEPSC amplitude and kinetics were unchanged. This effect was mediated via TrkB receptor activation and required both full intracellular Ca2+ stores as well as extracellular Ca2+. Consistent with a role of Ca2+-permeable plasma membrane channels of the TRPC family, the inhibitor SKF96365 prevented the BDNF-induced increase in mEPSC frequency. Furthermore, labeling presynaptic terminals with amphipathic styryl dyes and then monitoring their post-BDNF destaining in slice cultures by multiphoton excitation microscopy revealed that the increase in frequency of mEPSCs reflects vesicular fusion events. Indeed, BDNF application to CA3-CA1 synapses in TTX rapidly enhanced FM1-43 or FM2-10 destaining with a time course that paralleled the phase of increased mEPSC frequency. We conclude that BDNF increases mEPSC frequency by boosting vesicular fusion through a presynaptic, Ca2+-dependent mechanism involving TrkB receptors, Ca2+ stores, and TRPC channels.
PMCID: PMC3397209  PMID: 22811938
20.  Peripheral nerve injury sensitizes neonatal dorsal horn neurons to tumor necrosis factor-α 
Molecular Pain  2009;5:10.
Little is known about whether peripheral nerve injury during the early postnatal period modulates synaptic efficacy in the immature superficial dorsal horn (SDH) of the spinal cord, or whether the neonatal SDH network is sensitive to the proinflammatory cytokine TNFα under neuropathic conditions. Thus we examined the effects of TNFα on synaptic transmission and intrinsic membrane excitability in developing rat SDH neurons in the absence or presence of sciatic nerve damage.
The spared nerve injury (SNI) model of peripheral neuropathy at postnatal day (P)6 failed to significantly alter miniature excitatory (mEPSCs) or inhibitory (mIPSCs) postsynaptic currents in SDH neurons at P9-11. However, SNI did alter the sensitivity of excitatory synapses in the immature SDH to TNFα. While TNFα failed to influence mEPSCs or mIPSCs in slices from sham-operated controls, it significantly increased mEPSC frequency and amplitude following SNI without modulating synaptic inhibition onto the same neurons. This was accompanied by a significant decrease in the paired-pulse ratio of evoked EPSCs, suggesting TNFα increases the probability of glutamate release in the SDH under neuropathic conditions. Similarly, while SNI alone did not alter action potential (AP) threshold or rheobase in SDH neurons at this age, TNFα significantly decreased AP threshold and rheobase in the SNI group but not in sham-operated littermates. However, unlike the adult, the expression of TNFα in the immature dorsal horn was not significantly elevated during the first week following the SNI.
Developing SDH neurons become susceptible to regulation by TNFα following peripheral nerve injury in the neonate. This may include both a greater efficacy of glutamatergic synapses as well as an increase in the intrinsic excitability of immature dorsal horn neurons. However, neonatal sciatic nerve damage alone did not significantly modulate synaptic transmission or neuronal excitability in the SDH, which could reflect a relatively weak expression of TNFα in the injured spinal cord at early ages. The above data suggest that although the sensitivity of the SDH network to proinflammatory cytokines after nerve injury is present from the first days of life, the profile of spinal cytokine expression under neuropathic conditions may be highly age-dependent.
PMCID: PMC2657778  PMID: 19254372
21.  Layer specific experience-dependent rewiring of thalamocortical circuits 
Thalamocortical circuits are central to sensory and cognitive processing. Recent work suggests that the thalamocortical inputs onto L4 and L6, the main input layers of neocortex, are activated differently by visual stimulation. Whether these differences depend on layer specific organization of thalamocortical circuits; or on specific properties of synapses onto receiving neurons is unknown. Here we combined optogenetic stimulation of afferents from the visual thalamus and paired recording electrophysiology in L4 and L6 of rat primary visual cortex to determine the organization and plasticity of thalamocortical synapses. We show that thalamocortical inputs onto L4 and L6 differ in synaptic dynamics and sensitivity to visual drive. We also demonstrate that the two layers differ in the organization of thalamocortical and recurrent intracortical connectivity. In L4, a significantly larger proportion of excitatory neurons responded to light activation of thalamocortical terminal fields than in L6. The local microcircuit in L4 showed a higher degree of recurrent connectivity between excitatory neurons than the microcircuit in L6. In addition, L4 recurrently connected neurons were driven by thalamocortical inputs of similar magnitude indicating the presence of local subnetworks that may be activated by the same axonal projection. Finally, brief manipulation of visual drive reduced the amplitude of light-evoked thalamocortical synaptic currents selectively onto L4. These data are the first direct indication that thalamocortical circuits onto L4 and L6 support different aspects of cortical function through layer specific synaptic organization and plasticity.
PMCID: PMC3613853  PMID: 23447625
synaptic plasticity; experience; LGN; thalamocortical; optogenetics; microcircuitry; visual cortex
22.  Quantal amplitude at the cone ribbon synapse can be adjusted by changes in cytosolic glutamate 
Molecular Vision  2011;17:920-931.
Vision is encoded at photoreceptor synapses by the number of released vesicles and size of the post-synaptic response. We hypothesized that elevating cytosolic glutamate could enhance quantal size by increasing glutamate in vesicles.
We introduced glutamate (10–40 mM) into cone terminals through a patch pipette and recorded excitatory post-synaptic currents (EPSCs) from horizontal or OFF bipolar cells in the Ambystoma tigrinum retinal slice preparation.
Elevating cytosolic glutamate in cone terminals enhanced EPSCs as well as quantal miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs). Enhancement was prevented by inhibiting vesicular glutamate transport with 1S,3R-1-aminocyclopentane-1,3-dicarboxylate in the patch pipette. A low affinity glutamate receptor antagonist, γD-glutamylglycine (1 mM), less effectively inhibited EPSCs evoked from cones loaded with glutamate than control cones indicating that release from cones with supplemental glutamate produced higher glutamate levels in the synaptic cleft. Raising presynaptic glutamate did not alter exocytotic capacitance responses and exocytosis was observed after inhibiting glutamate loading with the vesicular ATPase inhibitor, concanamycin A, suggesting that release capability is not restricted by low vesicular glutamate levels. Variance-mean analysis of currents evoked by flash photolysis of caged glutamate indicated that horizontal cell AMPA receptors have a single channel conductance of 10.1 pS suggesting that ~8.7 GluRs contribute to each mEPSC.
Quantal amplitude at the cone ribbon synapse is capable of adjustment by changes in cytosolic glutamate levels. The small number of channels contributing to each mEPSC suggests that stochastic variability in channel opening could be an important source of quantal variability.
PMCID: PMC3084219  PMID: 21541265
23.  The chemerin receptor 23 agonist, chemerin, attenuates monosynaptic C-fibre input to lamina I neurokinin 1 receptor expressing rat spinal cord neurons in inflammatory pain 
Molecular Pain  2014;10:24.
Recent evidence has shown that the chemerin receptor 23 (ChemR23) represents a novel inflammatory pain target, whereby the ChemR23 agonists, resolvin E1 and chemerin, can inhibit inflammatory pain hypersensitivity, by a mechanism that involves normalisation of potentiated spinal cord responses. This study has examined the ability of the ChemR23 agonist, chemerin, to modulate synaptic input to lamina I neurokinin 1 receptor expressing (NK1R+) dorsal horn neurons, which are known to be crucial for the manifestation of inflammatory pain.
Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from pre-identified lamina I NK1R+ neurons, in rat spinal cord slices, revealed that chemerin significantly attenuates capsaicin potentiation of miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (mEPSC) frequency, but is without effect in non-potentiated conditions. In tissue isolated from complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA) treated rats, chemerin significantly reduced the peak amplitude of monosynaptic C-fibre evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents (eEPSCs) in a subset of lamina I NK1R+ neurons, termed chemerin responders. However, chemerin did not alter the peak amplitude of monosynaptic C-fibre eEPSCs in control tissue. Furthermore, paired-pulse recordings in CFA tissue demonstrated that chemerin significantly reduced paired-pulse depression in the subset of neurons classified as chemerin responders, but was without effect in non-responders, indicating that chemerin acts presynaptically to attenuate monosynaptic C-fibre input to a subset of lamina I NK1R+ neurons.
These results suggest that the reported ability of ChemR23 agonists to attenuate inflammatory pain hypersensitivity may in part be due to a presynaptic inhibition of monosynaptic C-fibre input to lamina I NK1R+ neurons and provides further evidence that ChemR23 represents a promising inflammatory pain target.
PMCID: PMC4023702  PMID: 24716552
Dorsal horn; Lamina I; NK1R; Projection neurons; Chemerin; ChemR23; Inflammatory pain; Resolvins
24.  Effects of Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid on Inhibition and Excitation in Rat Neocortex 
Neuroscience  2007;150(1):82-92.
The mechanism by which the sedative and amnestic recreational drug gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) acts is controversial. Some studies indicate that it acts at its unique receptor, while others demonstrate effects mediated through the GABAB receptor. We examined the effect of GHB on evoked GABAA receptor mediated mono- and polysynaptic IPSCs as well as on NMDA and AMPA mediated EPSCs in layers II/III pyramidal cells of the frontal cortex of rat brain. One millimolar (mM) GHB suppressed monosynaptic IPSCs by 20%, whereas polysynaptic IPSCs were reduced by 56%. GHB (1mM) also produced a significant suppression of NMDA-mediated EPSCs by 53% compared to 27% suppression of AMPA-mediated EPSCs. All effects of GHB on IPSCs and EPSCs were reversed by the specific GABAB antagonist CGP62349, but not by the GHB receptor antagonist NCS 382. Consistent with a presynaptic site of action, GHB reduced the frequency but not the amplitude of AMPA receptor mediated mEPSCs and had no effect on postsynaptic currents evoked by direct application of NMDA. Finally, even though GHB appeared to be acting at presynaptic GABAB receptors, GHB and the GABAB agonist baclofen appeared to have opposite potencies for depression of NMDA vs AMPA mediated EPSCs. GHB showed a preference for depressing NMDA responses while baclofen more potently suppressed AMPA responses. The suppression of NMDA more than AMPA responses by GHB at intoxicating doses may make it attractive as a recreational drug and may explain why GHB is abused and baclofen is not.
PMCID: PMC2211716  PMID: 17904295
GHB; baclofen; NMDA; AMPA; presynaptic
25.  Modulation of excitatory synaptic transmission by nociceptin in superficial dorsal horn neurones of the neonatal rat spinal cord 
British Journal of Pharmacology  1997;121(3):425-432.
The modulatory actions of nociceptin/orphanin FQ on excitatory synaptic transmission were studied in superficial dorsal horn neurones in transverse slices from 7 to 14 day old rats.Glutamatergic excitatory postsynaptic currents (e.p.s.cs) were recorded from the somata of the neurones in the whole-cell patch-clamp configuration. E.p.s.cs were evoked by extracellular electrical stimulation (100 μs, 3–10 V) of the ipsilateral dorsal root entry zone by use of a glass electrode. E.p.s.cs with constant short latency (<2.3 ms) and with no failures upon stimulation were assumed to be monosynaptic. These e.p.s.cs occurred with an average latency of 1.72±0.098 ms and exhibited a fast decay with a time constant, τ, of 4.8±0.53 ms (n=30).Nociceptin reversibly reduced the amplitudes of e.p.s.cs in a concentration-dependent manner in 25 out of 27 cells tested. Average maximum inhibition was 51.6±5.7% (mean±s.e.mean; n=9), at concentrations >3 μM. EC50 was 485±47 nM and the Hill coefficient was 1.29±0.09.Inhibition of synaptic transmission by nociceptin (10 μM) was insensitive to the non-specific opioid receptor antagonist naloxone (10 μM) indicating that nociceptin did not act via classical opioid receptors.In order to determine the site of action of nociceptin spontaneous miniature e.p.s.cs (m-e.p.s.cs) were recorded. Nociceptin reduced the frequency of m-e.p.s.cs in 6 out of 7 cells but had no effect on their amplitude distribution or on their time course. These findings suggest a pre- rather than a postsynaptic modulatory site of action. This is in line with the finding that current responses elicited by extracellular application of L-glutamate (10 μM) were not affected by nociceptin (10 μM; n=7).No positive correlation was found between the degree of inhibition by nociceptin (10 μM) and by the mixed δ- and μ-receptor agonist methionine-enkephalin (10 μM). This suggests that both neuropeptides acted on different but perhaps overlapping populations of synaptic connections.Our results indicate that nociceptin inhibits excitatory synaptic transmission in the superficial layers of the rat dorsal horn by acting on presynaptic, presumably ORL1 receptors. This may be an important mechanism for spinal sensory information processing including nociception.
PMCID: PMC1564705  PMID: 9179383
Nociceptin; orphanin FQ; methionine-enkephalin; synaptic transmission; ORL1 receptor; spinal cord; nociception; hyperalgesia; analgesia; pain

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