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1.  A Role for Short-Term Synaptic Facilitation and Depression in the Processing of Intensity Information in the Auditory Brain Stem 
Journal of Neurophysiology  2007;97(4):2863-2874.
The nature of the synaptic connection from the auditory nerve onto the cochlear nucleus neurons has a profound impact on how sound information is transmitted. Short-term synaptic plasticity, by dynamically modulating synaptic strength, filters information contained in the firing patterns. In the sound-localization circuits of the brain stem, the synapses of the timing pathway are characterized by strong short-term depression. We investigated the short-term synaptic plasticity of the inputs to the bird’s cochlear nucleus angularis (NA), which encodes intensity information, by using chick embryonic brain slices and trains of electrical stimulation. These excitatory inputs expressed a mixture of short-term facilitation and depression, unlike those in the timing nuclei that only depressed. Facilitation and depression at NA synapses were balanced such that postsynaptic response amplitude was often maintained throughout the train at high firing rates (>100 Hz). The steady-state input rate relationship of the balanced synapses linearly conveyed rate information and therefore transmits intensity information encoded as a rate code in the nerve. A quantitative model of synaptic transmission could account for the plasticity by including facilitation of release (with a time constant of ~40 ms), and a two-step recovery from depression (with one slow time constant of ~8 s, and one fast time constant of ~20 ms). A simulation using the model fit to NA synapses and auditory nerve spike trains from recordings in vivo confirmed that these synapses can convey intensity information contained in natural train inputs.
PMCID: PMC3268177  PMID: 17251365
2.  Short-term synaptic plasticity and intensity coding 
Hearing research  2011;279(1-2):13-21.
Alterations in synaptic strength over short time scales, termed short-term synaptic plasticity, can gate the flow of information through neural circuits. Different information can be extracted from the same presynaptic spike train depending on the activity- and time-dependent properties of the plasticity at a given synapse. The parallel processing in the brain stem auditory pathways provides an excellent model system for investigating the functional implications of short-term plasticity in neural coding. We review recent evidence that short-term plasticity differs in different pathways with a special emphasis on the ‘intensity’ pathway. While short-term depression dominates the ‘timing’ pathway, the intensity pathway is characterized by a balance of short-term depression and facilitation that allows linear transmission of rate-coded intensity information. Target-specific regulation of presynaptic plasticity mechanisms underlies the differential expression of depression and facilitation. The potential contribution of short-term plasticity to different aspects of ‘intensity’-related information processing, such as interaural level/intensity difference coding, amplitude modulation coding, and intensity-dependent gain control coding, is discussed.
PMCID: PMC3210195  PMID: 21397676
3.  Synaptic Zn2+ Inhibits Neurotransmitter Release by Promoting Endocannabinoid Synthesis 
Although it is well established that many glutamatergic neurons sequester Zn2+ within their synaptic vesicles, the physiological significance of synaptic Zn2+ remains poorly understood. In experiments performed in a Zn2+-enriched auditory brainstem nucleus -- the dorsal cochlear nucleus -- we discovered that synaptic Zn2+ and GPR39, a putative metabotropic Zn2+-sensing receptor (mZnR), are necessary for triggering the synthesis of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The postsynaptic production of 2-AG, in turn, inhibits presynaptic probability of neurotransmitter release, thus shaping synaptic strength and short-term synaptic plasticity. Zn2+-induced inhibition of transmitter release is absent in mutant mice that lack either vesicular Zn2+ or the mZnR. Moreover, mass spectrometry measurements of 2-AG levels reveal that Zn2+-mediated initiation of 2-AG synthesis is absent in mice lacking the mZnR. We reveal a previously unknown action of synaptic Zn2+: synaptic Zn2+ inhibits glutamate release by promoting 2-AG synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3733213  PMID: 23719795
4.  Emergence of coordinated plasticity in the cochlear nucleus and cerebellum 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2012;32(23):7862-7868.
Synapses formed by one cell type onto another cell type tend to show characteristic short-term plasticity, which varies from facilitating to depressing depending on the particular system. Within a population of synapses, plasticity can also be variable, and it is unknown how this plasticity is determined on a cell-by-cell level. We have investigated this in the mouse cochlear nucleus, where auditory nerve (AN) fibers contact bushy cells (BCs) at synapses called “endbulbs of Held”. Synapses formed by different AN fibers onto one BC had plasticity that was more similar than would be expected at random. Experiments using MK-801 indicated that this resulted in part from similarity in the presynaptic probability of release. This similarity was not present in immature synapses, but emerged after the onset of hearing. In addition, this phenomenon also occurred at excitatory synapses in the cerebellum. This indicates that postsynaptic cells coordinate the plasticity of their inputs, which suggests that plasticity is of fundamental importance to synaptic function.
PMCID: PMC3378049  PMID: 22674262
5.  Synaptic plasticity in inhibitory neurons of the auditory brainstem 
Neuropharmacology  2010;60(5):774-779.
There is a growing appreciation of synaptic plasticity in the early levels of auditory processing, and particularly of its role in inhibitory circuits. Synaptic strength in auditory brainstem and midbrain is sensitive to standard protocols for induction of long-term depression, potentiation, and spike-timing-dependent plasticity. Differential forms of plasticity are operative at synapses onto inhibitory versus excitatory neurons within a circuit, and together these could serve to tune circuits involved in sound localization or multisensory integration. Such activity-dependent control of synaptic function in inhibitory neurons may also be expressed after hearing loss and could underlie persistent neuronal activity in patients with tinnitus.
PMCID: PMC3073658  PMID: 21185317
6.  Heterogeneous kinetics and pharmacology of synaptic inhibition in the chick auditory brainstem 
Identification of shared features between avian and mammalian auditory brainstem circuits has provided much insight into the mechanisms underlying early auditory processing. However, previous studies have highlighted an apparent difference in inhibitory systems; synaptic inhibition is thought to be slow and GABAergic in birds, but to have fast kinetics and be predominantly glycinergic in mammals. Using patch-clamp recordings in chick brainstem slices, we found this distinction is not exclusively true. Consistent with previous work, inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) were slow and mediated by GABAA receptors. However, IPSCs in nucleus laminaris (NL) and a subset of neurons in nucleus angularis (NA) had rapid time courses two to three-fold faster than those in NM. Further, we found IPSCs in NA were mediated by both glycine and GABAA receptors, demonstrating for the first time a role for fast glycinergic transmission in the avian auditory brainstem. Although NM, NL and NA have unique roles in auditory processing, the majority of inhibitory input to each nucleus arises from the same source, ipsilateral superior olivary nucleus (SON). Our results demonstrate remarkable diversity of inhibitory transmission among the avian brainstem nuclei and suggest differential glycine and GABAA receptor activity tailors inhibition to the specific functional roles of NM, NL, and NA despite common SON input. We additionally observed that glycinergic/GABAergic activity in NA was usually depolarizing and could elicit spiking activity in NA neurons. Because NA projects to SON, these excitatory effects may influence the recruitment of inhibitory activity in the brainstem nuclei.
PMCID: PMC2894706  PMID: 19641125
Auditory; GABA; Glycine; Patch Clamp; Inhibition; Synapse
7.  Intrinsic Stability of Temporally Shifted Spike-Timing Dependent Plasticity 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(11):e1000961.
Spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP), a widespread synaptic modification mechanism, is sensitive to correlations between presynaptic spike trains and it generates competition among synapses. However, STDP has an inherent instability because strong synapses are more likely to be strengthened than weak ones, causing them to grow in strength until some biophysical limit is reached. Through simulations and analytic calculations, we show that a small temporal shift in the STDP window that causes synchronous, or nearly synchronous, pre- and postsynaptic action potentials to induce long-term depression can stabilize synaptic strengths. Shifted STDP also stabilizes the postsynaptic firing rate and can implement both Hebbian and anti-Hebbian forms of competitive synaptic plasticity. Interestingly, the overall level of inhibition determines whether plasticity is Hebbian or anti-Hebbian. Even a random symmetric jitter of a few milliseconds in the STDP window can stabilize synaptic strengths while retaining these features. The same results hold for a shifted version of the more recent “triplet” model of STDP. Our results indicate that the detailed shape of the STDP window function near the transition from depression to potentiation is of the utmost importance in determining the consequences of STDP, suggesting that this region warrants further experimental study.
Author Summary
Synaptic plasticity is believed to be a fundamental mechanism of learning and memory. In spike-timing dependent synaptic plasticity (STDP), the temporal order of pre- and postsynaptic spiking across a synapse determines whether it is strengthened or weakened. STDP can induce competition between the different inputs synapsing onto a neuron, which is crucial for the formation of functional neuronal circuits. However, strong synaptic competition is often incompatible with inherent synaptic stability. Synaptic modification by STDP is controlled by a so-called temporal window function that determines how synaptic modification depends on spike timing. We show that a small shift, or random jitter, in the conventional temporal window function used for STDP that is compatible with the underlying molecular kinetics of STDP, can both stabilize synapses and maintain competition. The outcome of the competition is determined by the level of inhibitory input to the postsynaptic neuron. We conclude that the detailed shape of the temporal window function is critical in determining the functional consequences of STDP and thus deserves further experimental study.
PMCID: PMC2973812  PMID: 21079671
8.  Short Term Synaptic Depression Imposes a Frequency Dependent Filter on Synaptic Information Transfer 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(6):e1002557.
Depletion of synaptic neurotransmitter vesicles induces a form of short term depression in synapses throughout the nervous system. This plasticity affects how synapses filter presynaptic spike trains. The filtering properties of short term depression are often studied using a deterministic synapse model that predicts the mean synaptic response to a presynaptic spike train, but ignores variability introduced by the probabilistic nature of vesicle release and stochasticity in synaptic recovery time. We show that this additional variability has important consequences for the synaptic filtering of presynaptic information. In particular, a synapse model with stochastic vesicle dynamics suppresses information encoded at lower frequencies more than information encoded at higher frequencies, while a model that ignores this stochasticity transfers information encoded at any frequency equally well. This distinction between the two models persists even when large numbers of synaptic contacts are considered. Our study provides strong evidence that the stochastic nature neurotransmitter vesicle dynamics must be considered when analyzing the information flow across a synapse.
Author Summary
Neurons communicate through electro-chemical connections called synapses. Action potentials in a presynaptic neuron cause neurotransmitter vesicles to release their contents which then bind to nearby receptors on a postsynaptic neuron's membrane, transiently altering its conductance. After it is released, the replacement of a neurotransmitter vesicle takes time and the depletion of vesicles can prevent subsequent action potentials from eliciting a postsynaptic response, an effect that represents a form of short term synaptic depression. When a vesicle is available for release, an action potential elicits its release probabilistically and depleted vesicles are replenished randomly in time, making the transmission of presynaptic signals inherently unreliable. We analyze a mathematical model of vesicle release and recovery to understand how signals encoded in sequences of presynaptic action potentials are reflected in the fluctuations of a postsynaptic neuron's conductance. We find that slow modulations in the rate of presynaptic action potentials are more difficult for a postsynaptic neuron to detect than faster modulations. This phenomenon is only observed when randomness in vesicle release and replacement is taken into account. Thus, by including stochasticity in the workings of synaptic dynamics we give new qualitative understanding to how information is transferred in the nervous system.
PMCID: PMC3380957  PMID: 22737062
9.  Long-term plasticity determines the postsynaptic response to correlated afferents with multivesicular short-term synaptic depression 
Synchrony in a presynaptic population leads to correlations in vesicle occupancy at the active sites for neurotransmitter release. The number of independent release sites per presynaptic neuron, a synaptic parameter recently shown to be modified during long-term plasticity, will modulate these correlations and therefore have a significant effect on the firing rate of the postsynaptic neuron. To understand how correlations from synaptic dynamics and from presynaptic synchrony shape the postsynaptic response, we study a model of multiple release site short-term plasticity and derive exact results for the crosscorrelation function of vesicle occupancy and neurotransmitter release, as well as the postsynaptic voltage variance. Using approximate forms for the postsynaptic firing rate in the limits of low and high correlations, we demonstrate that short-term depression leads to a maximum response for an intermediate number of presynaptic release sites, and that this leads to a tuning-curve response peaked at an optimal presynaptic synchrony set by the number of neurotransmitter release sites per presynaptic neuron. These effects arise because, above a certain level of correlation, activity in the presynaptic population is overly strong resulting in wastage of the pool of releasable neurotransmitter. As the nervous system operates under constraints of efficient metabolism it is likely that this phenomenon provides an activity-dependent constraint on network architecture.
PMCID: PMC3906582  PMID: 24523691
long-term plasticity; short-term plasticity; synaptic depression; correlations and synchrony; voltage fluctuations
10.  Mechanisms of Synaptic Plasticity in the Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus: Plasticity-Induced Changes That Could Underlie Tinnitus 
American journal of audiology  2008;17(2):S170-S175.
Tinnitus is the persistent perception of a subjective sound. Tinnitus is almost universally experienced in some forms. In most cases, recovery may occur in seconds, hours, or days. How does tinnitus shift from a transient condition to a lifelong disorder? Several lines of evidence, including clinical studies and animal models, indicate that the brain, rather than the inner ear, may in some cases be the site of maintenance of tinnitus. One hypothesis is that normal electrical activity in the auditory system becomes pathologically persistent due to plasticity-like mechanisms that can lead to long-term changes in the communication between neurons. A candidate site for the expression of this so-called synaptic plasticity is a region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), a site of integration of acoustic and multimodal, sensory inputs.
Here we review recent findings on cellular mechanisms observed in the DCN that can lead to long-term changes in the synaptic strength between different neurons in the DCN. These cellular mechanisms could provide candidate signaling pathways underlying the induction (ignition) and/or the expression (maintenance) of tinnitus.
PMCID: PMC2804917  PMID: 18978197
synaptic plasticity; dorsal cochlear nucleus; tinnitus; auditory neuroscience
11.  Sustained firing of cartwheel cells in the dorsal cochlear nucleus evokes endocannabinoid release and retrograde suppression of parallel fiber synapses 
Neurons in many brain regions release endocannabinoids from their dendrites that act as retrograde signals to transiently suppress neurotransmitter release from presynaptic terminals. Little is known however about the physiological mechanisms of short-term endocannabinoid-mediated plasticity under physiological conditions. Here we investigate calcium-dependent endocannabinoid release from cartwheel cells (CWCs) of the mouse dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) in the auditory brainstem that provide feedforward inhibition onto DCN principal neurons. We report that sustained action potential firing by CWCs evokes endocannabinoid release in response to submicromolar elevation of dendritic calcium that transiently suppresses their parallel fiber inputs by >70%. Basal spontaneous CWC firing rates are insufficient to evoke tonic suppression of PF synapses. However, elevating CWC firing rates by stimulation of parallel fibers triggers release of endocannabinoids and heterosynaptic suppression of PF inputs. Spike-evoked suppression by endocannabinoids selectively suppresses excitatory synapses but glycinergic/GABAergic inputs onto CWCs are not affected. Our findings demonstrate a mechanism of transient plasticity mediated by endocannabinoids that heterosynaptically suppresses subsets of excitatory presynaptic inputs to CWCs that regulates feedforward inhibition of DCN principal neurons and may thereby influence the output of the DCN.
PMCID: PMC3234102  PMID: 22049424
dorsal cochlear nucleus; cartwheel cell; endocannabinoids; synaptic plasticity; calcium imaging
12.  Difference in response reliability predicted by spectrotemporal tuning in the cochlear nuclei of barn owls 
The brainstem auditory pathway is obligatory for all aural information. Brainstem auditory neurons must encode the level and timing of sounds, as well as their time-dependent spectral properties, the fine structure and envelope, which are essential for sound discrimination. This study focused on envelope coding in the two cochlear nuclei of the barn owl, nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus magnocellularis (NM). NA and NM receive input from bifurcating auditory nerve fibers and initiate processing pathways specialized in encoding interaural time (ITD) and level (ILD) differences, respectively. We found that NA neurons, though unable to accurately encode stimulus phase, lock more strongly to the stimulus envelope than NM units. The spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) of NA neurons exhibit a pre-excitatory suppressive field. Using multilinear regression analysis and computational modeling, we show that this feature of STRFs can account for enhanced across-trial response reliability, by locking spikes to the stimulus envelope. Our findings indicate a dichotomy in envelope coding between the time and intensity processing pathways as early as at the level of the cochlear nuclei. This allows the ILD processing pathway to encode envelope information with greater fidelity than the ITD processing pathway. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the properties of the neurons’ STRFs can be quantitatively related to spike timing reliability.
PMCID: PMC3059808  PMID: 21368035
Nucleus angularis; STRF; spectrotemporal tuning; cochlear nuclei; barn owl; response reliability
13.  Stochastic Properties of Neurotransmitter Release Expand the Dynamic Range of Synapses 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(36):14406-14416.
Release of neurotransmitter is an inherently random process, which could degrade the reliability of postsynaptic spiking, even at relatively large synapses. This is particularly important at auditory synapses, where the rate and precise timing of spikes carry information about sounds. However, the functional consequences of the stochastic properties of release are unknown. We addressed this issue at the mouse endbulb of Held synapse, which is formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells (BCs) in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. We used voltage clamp to characterize synaptic variability. Dynamic clamp was used to compare BC spiking with stochastic or deterministic synaptic input. The stochastic component increased the responsiveness of the BC to conductances that were on average subthreshold, thereby increasing the dynamic range of the synapse. This had the benefit that BCs relayed auditory nerve activity even when synapses showed significant depression during rapid activity. However, the precision of spike timing decreased with stochastic conductances, suggesting a trade-off between encoding information in spike timing versus probability. These effects were confirmed in fiber stimulation experiments, indicating that they are physiologically relevant, and that synaptic randomness, dynamic range, and jitter are causally related.
PMCID: PMC3761050  PMID: 24005293
14.  The localization and physiological effects of cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) in the brain stem auditory system of the chick 
Neuroscience  2011;194C:150-159.
Fast, temporally-precise, and consistent synaptic transmission is required to encode features of acoustic stimuli. Neurons of nucleus magnocellularis (NM) in the auditory brain stem of the chick possess numerous adaptations to optimize the coding of temporal information. One potential problem for the system is the depression of synaptic transmission during a prolonged stimulus. The present studies tested the hypothesis that cannabinoid receptor one (CB1) signaling may limit synaptic depression at the auditory nerve-NM synapse. In situ hybridization was used to confirm that CB1 mRNA is expressed in the cochlear ganglion; immunohistochemistry was used to confirm the presence of CB1 protein in NM. These findings are consistent with the common presynaptic locus of CB1 in the brain. Rate-dependent synaptic depression was then examined in a brain slice preparation before and after administration of WIN 55,212-2 (WIN), a potent CB1 agonist. WIN decreased the amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic currents and also reduced depression across a train of stimuli. The effect was most obvious late in the pulse train and during high rates of stimulation. This CB1-mediated influence could allow for lower, but more consistent activation of NM neurons, which could be of importance for optimizing the coding of prolonged, temporally-locked acoustic stimuli.
PMCID: PMC3182287  PMID: 21703331
cochlear nucleus; synaptic depression; nucleus magnocellularis; brain slice; WIN 55,212-2; calyx
15.  Developmental plasticity of auditory cortical inhibitory synapses 
Hearing research  2011;279(1-2):140-148.
Functional inhibitory synapses form in auditory cortex well before the onset of normal hearing. However, their properties change dramatically during normal development, and many of these maturational events are delayed by hearing loss. Here, we review recent findings on the developmental plasticity of inhibitory synapse strength, kinetics, and GABAA receptor localization in auditory cortex. Although hearing loss generally leads to a reduction of inhibitory strength, this depends on the type of presynaptic interneuron. Furthermore, plasticity of inhibitory synapses also depends on the postsynaptic target. Hearing loss leads reduced GABAA receptor localization to the membrane of excitatory, but not inhibitory neurons. A reduction in normal activity in development can also affect the use-dependent plasticity of inhibitory synapses. Even moderate hearing loss can disrupt inhibitory short- and long-term synaptic plasticity. Thus, the cortex did not compensate for the loss of inhibition in the brainstem, but rather exacerbated the response to hearing loss by further reducing inhibitory drive. Together, these results demonstrate that inhibitory synapses are exceptionally dynamic during development, and deafness-induced perturbation of inhibitory properties may have a profound impact on auditory processing.
PMCID: PMC3135718  PMID: 21463668
development; deafness; inhibitory interneuron; short-term depression; long-term potentiation; auditory cortex
16.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. I. Projections of Nucleus Angularis and Nucleus Laminaris to the Auditory Torus 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22334.
Auditory information is important for social and reproductive behaviors in birds generally, but is crucial for oscine species (songbirds), in particular because in these species auditory feedback ensures the learning and accurate maintenance of song. While there is considerable information on the auditory projections through the forebrain of songbirds, there is no information available for projections through the brainstem. At the latter levels the prevalent model of auditory processing in birds derives from an auditory specialist, the barn owl, which uses time and intensity parameters to compute the location of sounds in space, but whether the auditory brainstem of songbirds is similarly functionally organized is unknown. To examine the songbird auditory brainstem we charted the projections of the cochlear nuclei angularis (NA) and magnocellularis (NM) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) in zebra finches using standard tract-tracing techniques. As in other avian species, the projections of NM were found to be confined to NL, and NL and NA provided the ascending projections. Here we report on differential projections of NA and NL to the torus semicircularis, known in birds as nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis, pars dorsalis (MLd), and in mammals as the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICc). Unlike the case in nonsongbirds, the projections of NA and NL to MLd in the zebra finch showed substantial overlap, in agreement with the projections of the cochlear nuclei to the ICc in mammals. This organization could suggest that the “what” of auditory stimuli is as important as “where.”
PMCID: PMC3862038  PMID: 20394061
cochlear nuclei; central nucleus of inferior colliculus; MLd; zebra finch; avian
17.  A Tale of Two Stories: Astrocyte Regulation of Synaptic Depression and Facilitation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002293.
Short-term presynaptic plasticity designates variations of the amplitude of synaptic information transfer whereby the amount of neurotransmitter released upon presynaptic stimulation changes over seconds as a function of the neuronal firing activity. While a consensus has emerged that the resulting decrease (depression) and/or increase (facilitation) of the synapse strength are crucial to neuronal computations, their modes of expression in vivo remain unclear. Recent experimental studies have reported that glial cells, particularly astrocytes in the hippocampus, are able to modulate short-term plasticity but the mechanism of such a modulation is poorly understood. Here, we investigate the characteristics of short-term plasticity modulation by astrocytes using a biophysically realistic computational model. Mean-field analysis of the model, supported by intensive numerical simulations, unravels that astrocytes may mediate counterintuitive effects. Depending on the expressed presynaptic signaling pathways, astrocytes may globally inhibit or potentiate the synapse: the amount of released neurotransmitter in the presence of the astrocyte is transiently smaller or larger than in its absence. But this global effect usually coexists with the opposite local effect on paired pulses: with release-decreasing astrocytes most paired pulses become facilitated, namely the amount of neurotransmitter released upon spike i+1 is larger than that at spike i, while paired-pulse depression becomes prominent under release-increasing astrocytes. Moreover, we show that the frequency of astrocytic intracellular Ca2+ oscillations controls the effects of the astrocyte on short-term synaptic plasticity. Our model explains several experimental observations yet unsolved, and uncovers astrocytic gliotransmission as a possible transient switch between short-term paired-pulse depression and facilitation. This possibility has deep implications on the processing of neuronal spikes and resulting information transfer at synapses.
Author Summary
Synaptic plasticity is the capacity of a preexisting connection between two neurons to change in strength as a function of neuronal activity. Because it admittedly underlies learning and memory, the elucidation of its constituting mechanisms is of crucial importance in many aspects of normal and pathological brain function. Short-term presynaptic plasticity refers to changes occurring over short time scales (milliseconds to seconds) that are mediated by frequency-dependent modifications of the amount of neurotransmitter released by presynaptic stimulation. Recent experiments have reported that glial cells, especially hippocampal astrocytes, can modulate short-term plasticity, but the mechanism of such modulation is poorly understood. Here, we explore a plausible form of modulation of short-term plasticity by astrocytes using a biophysically realistic computational model. Our analysis indicates that astrocytes could simultaneously affect synaptic release in two ways. First, they either decrease or increase the overall synaptic release of neurotransmitter. Second, for stimuli that are delivered as pairs within short intervals, they systematically increase or decrease the synaptic response to the second one. Hence, our model suggests that astrocytes could transiently trigger switches between paired-pulse depression and facilitation. This property explains several challenging experimental observations and has a deep impact on our understanding of synaptic information transfer.
PMCID: PMC3228793  PMID: 22162957
18.  Inhibitory glycinergic neurotransmission in the mammalian auditory brainstem upon prolonged stimulation: short-term plasticity and synaptic reliability 
Short-term plasticity plays a key role in synaptic transmission and has been extensively investigated for excitatory synapses. Much less is known about inhibitory synapses. Here we analyze the performance of glycinergic connections between the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) and the lateral superior olive (LSO) in the auditory brainstem, where high spike rates as well as fast and precise neurotransmission are hallmarks. Analysis was performed in acute mouse slices shortly after hearing onset (postnatal day (P)11) and 8 days later (P19). Stimulation was done at 37°C with 1–400 Hz for 40 s. Moreover, in a novel approach named marathon experiments, a very prolonged stimulation protocol was employed, comprising 10 trials of 1-min challenge and 1-min recovery periods at 50 and 1 Hz, respectively, thus lasting up to 20 min and amounting to >30,000 stimulus pulses. IPSC peak amplitudes displayed short-term depression (STD) and synaptic attenuation in a frequency-dependent manner. No facilitation was observed. STD in the MNTB-LSO connections was less pronounced than reported in the upstream calyx of Held-MNTB connections. At P11, the STD level and the failure rate were slightly lower within the ms-to-s range than at P19. During prolonged stimulation periods lasting 40 s, P19 connections sustained virtually failure-free transmission up to frequencies of 100 Hz, whereas P11 connections did so only up to 50 Hz. In marathon experiments, P11 synapses recuperated reproducibly from synaptic attenuation during all recovery periods, demonstrating a robust synaptic machinery at hearing onset. At 26°C, transmission was severely impaired and comprised abnormally high amplitudes after minutes of silence, indicative of imprecisely regulated vesicle pools. Our study takes a fresh look at synaptic plasticity and stability by extending conventional stimulus periods in the ms-to-s range to minutes. It also provides a framework for future analyses of synaptic plasticity.
PMCID: PMC3948056  PMID: 24653676
synaptic fidelity; fast-spiking cells; short-term depression; inhibitory postsynaptic currents; synaptic attenuation; lateral superior olive; medial nucleus of the trapezoid body; high-frequency neurotransmission
19.  Target-specific IPSC kinetics promote temporal processing in auditory parallel pathways 
The acoustic environment contains biologically relevant information on time scales from microseconds to tens of seconds. The auditory brainstem nuclei process this temporal information through parallel pathways that originate in the cochlear nucleus from different classes of cells. While the roles of ion channels and excitatory synapses in temporal processing have been well studied, the contribution of inhibition is less well understood. Here, we show in CBA/CaJ mice that the two major projection neurons of the ventral cochlear nucleus, the bushy and T-stellate cells, receive glycinergic inhibition with different synaptic conductance time courses. Bushy cells, which provide precisely timed spike trains used in sound localization and pitch identification, receive slow inhibitory inputs. In contrast, T-stellate cells, which encode slower envelope information, receive inhibition that is eight-fold faster. Both types of inhibition improved the precision of spike timing, but engage different cellular mechanisms and operate on different time scales. Computer models reveal that slow IPSCs in bushy cells can improve spike timing on the scale of tens of microseconds. While fast and slow IPSCs in T-stellate cells improve spike timing on the scale of milliseconds, only fast IPSCs can enhance the detection of narrowband acoustic signals in a complex background. Our results suggest that target-specific IPSC kinetics are critical for the segregated parallel processing of temporal information from the sensory environment.
PMCID: PMC3737999  PMID: 23345233
20.  Synaptic Plasticity in Medial Vestibular Nucleus Neurons: Comparison with Computational Requirements of VOR Adaptation 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13182.
Vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) gain adaptation, a longstanding experimental model of cerebellar learning, utilizes sites of plasticity in both cerebellar cortex and brainstem. However, the mechanisms by which the activity of cortical Purkinje cells may guide synaptic plasticity in brainstem vestibular neurons are unclear. Theoretical analyses indicate that vestibular plasticity should depend upon the correlation between Purkinje cell and vestibular afferent inputs, so that, in gain-down learning for example, increased cortical activity should induce long-term depression (LTD) at vestibular synapses.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we expressed this correlational learning rule in its simplest form, as an anti-Hebbian, heterosynaptic spike-timing dependent plasticity interaction between excitatory (vestibular) and inhibitory (floccular) inputs converging on medial vestibular nucleus (MVN) neurons (input-spike-timing dependent plasticity, iSTDP). To test this rule, we stimulated vestibular afferents to evoke EPSCs in rat MVN neurons in vitro. Control EPSC recordings were followed by an induction protocol where membrane hyperpolarizing pulses, mimicking IPSPs evoked by flocculus inputs, were paired with single vestibular nerve stimuli. A robust LTD developed at vestibular synapses when the afferent EPSPs coincided with membrane hyperpolarisation, while EPSPs occurring before or after the simulated IPSPs induced no lasting change. Furthermore, the iSTDP rule also successfully predicted the effects of a complex protocol using EPSP trains designed to mimic classical conditioning.
These results, in strong support of theoretical predictions, suggest that the cerebellum alters the strength of vestibular synapses on MVN neurons through hetero-synaptic, anti-Hebbian iSTDP. Since the iSTDP rule does not depend on post-synaptic firing, it suggests a possible mechanism for VOR adaptation without compromising gaze-holding and VOR performance in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2950150  PMID: 20957149
21.  Relative roles of different mechanisms of depression at the mouse endbulb of Held 
Journal of neurophysiology  2008;99(5):2510-2521.
Several mechanisms can underlie short-term synaptic depression, including vesicle depletion, receptor desensitization, and changes in presynaptic release probability. To determine which mechanisms affect depression under physiological conditions, we studied the synapse formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (the “endbulb of Held”) using voltage-clamp recordings of brain slices from P15–21 mice near physiological temperatures. Depression of both AMPA and NMDA EPSCs showed two phases of recovery. The fast component of depression for the AMPA EPSC was eliminated by cyclothiazide and aniracetam, suggesting it results from desensitization. The fast component of depression for the NMDA EPSC was reduced by the low-affinity antagonist L-AP5, suggesting it results from saturation. The remaining depression in AMPA and NMDA components is identical and therefore presynaptic in origin. It is likely to result from presynaptic vesicle depletion. Recovery from depression after trains of activity was slowed by the application of EGTA-AM, suggesting that the endbulb has a residual-calcium-dependent form of recovery. We developed a model that incorporates depletion, desensitization, and calcium-dependent recovery. This model replicated experimental findings over a range of experimental conditions. The model further indicated that desensitization plays only a minor role during prolonged activity, in large part because presynaptic release is so depleted. Thus, depletion appears to be the dominant mechanism of depression at the endbulb during normal activity. Furthermore, calcium-dependent recovery at the endbulb is critical to prevent complete run-down during high activity and to preserve the reliability of information transmission.
PMCID: PMC2905879  PMID: 18367696
Synapse; Depression; Saturation; Desensitization; Endbulb; Modeling
22.  The spike timing dependence of plasticity 
Neuron  2012;75(4):556-571.
In spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), the order and precise temporal interval between presynaptic and postsynaptic spikes determine the sign and magnitude of long-term potentiation (LTP) or depression (LTD). STDP is widely utilized in models of circuit-level plasticity, development, and learning. However, spike timing is just one of several factors (including firing rate, synaptic cooperativity, and depolarization) that govern plasticity induction, and its relative importance varies across synapses and activity regimes. This review summarizes the forms, cellular mechanisms, and prevalence of STDP, and evaluates the evidence that spike timing is an important determinant of plasticity in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3431193  PMID: 22920249
synapse; Hebbian; anti-Hebbian; LTP; LTD; learning rule
23.  Spectrotemporal Dynamics of Auditory Cortical Synaptic Receptive Field Plasticity 
Hearing research  2011;279(1-2):149-161.
The nervous system must dynamically represent sensory information in order for animals to perceive and operate within a complex, changing environment. Receptive field plasticity in the auditory cortex allows cortical networks to organize around salient features of the sensory environment during postnatal development, and then subsequently refine these representations depending on behavioral context later in life. Here we review the major features of auditory cortical receptive field plasticity in young and adult animals, focusing on modifications to frequency tuning of synaptic inputs. Alteration in the patterns of acoustic input, including sensory deprivation and tonal exposure, leads to rapid adjustments of excitatory and inhibitory strengths that collectively determine the suprathreshold tuning curves of cortical neurons. Long-term cortical plasticity also requires co-activation of subcortical neuromodulatory control nuclei such as the cholinergic nucleus basalis, particularly in adults. Regardless of developmental stage, regulation of inhibition seems to be a general mechanism by which changes in sensory experience and neuromodulatory state can remodel cortical receptive fields. We discuss recent findings suggesting that the microdynamics of synaptic receptive field plasticity unfold as a multi-phase set of distinct phenomena, initiated by disrupting the balance between excitation and inhibition, and eventually leading to wide-scale changes to many synapses throughout the cortex. These changes are coordinated to enhance the representations of newly-significant stimuli, possibly for improved signal processing and language learning in humans.
PMCID: PMC3138852  PMID: 21426927
auditory cortex; development; excitatory-inhibitory balance; hearing loss; neuromodulation; receptive field; synaptic plasticity
24.  Emergence of Connectivity Motifs in Networks of Model Neurons with Short- and Long-Term Plastic Synapses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84626.
Recent experimental data from the rodent cerebral cortex and olfactory bulb indicate that specific connectivity motifs are correlated with short-term dynamics of excitatory synaptic transmission. It was observed that neurons with short-term facilitating synapses form predominantly reciprocal pairwise connections, while neurons with short-term depressing synapses form predominantly unidirectional pairwise connections. The cause of these structural differences in excitatory synaptic microcircuits is unknown. We show that these connectivity motifs emerge in networks of model neurons, from the interactions between short-term synaptic dynamics (SD) and long-term spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP). While the impact of STDP on SD was shown in simultaneous neuronal pair recordings in vitro, the mutual interactions between STDP and SD in large networks are still the subject of intense research. Our approach combines an SD phenomenological model with an STDP model that faithfully captures long-term plasticity dependence on both spike times and frequency. As a proof of concept, we first simulate and analyze recurrent networks of spiking neurons with random initial connection efficacies and where synapses are either all short-term facilitating or all depressing. For identical external inputs to the network, and as a direct consequence of internally generated activity, we find that networks with depressing synapses evolve unidirectional connectivity motifs, while networks with facilitating synapses evolve reciprocal connectivity motifs. We then show that the same results hold for heterogeneous networks, including both facilitating and depressing synapses. This does not contradict a recent theory that proposes that motifs are shaped by external inputs, but rather complements it by examining the role of both the external inputs and the internally generated network activity. Our study highlights the conditions under which SD-STDP might explain the correlation between facilitation and reciprocal connectivity motifs, as well as between depression and unidirectional motifs.
PMCID: PMC3893143  PMID: 24454735
25.  Coactivation of Pre- and Postsynaptic Signaling Mechanisms Determines Cell-Specific Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity 
Neuron  2007;54(2):291-301.
Synapses may undergo long-term increases or decreases in synaptic strength dependent on critical differences in the timing between pre- and postsynaptic activity. Such spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) follows rules that govern how patterns of neural activity induce changes in synaptic strength. Synaptic plasticity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) follows Hebbian and anti-Hebbian patterns in a cell-specific manner. Here we show that these opposing responses to synaptic activity result from differential expression of two signaling pathways. Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) signaling underlies Hebbian postsynaptic LTP in principal cells. By contrast, in interneurons, a temporally precise anti-Hebbian synaptic spike-timing rule results from the combined effects of postsynaptic CaMKII–dependent LTP and endocannabinoid-dependent presynaptic LTD. Cell specificity in the circuit arises from selective targeting of presynaptic CB1 receptors in different axonal terminals. Hence, pre- and postsynaptic sites of expression determine both the sign and timing requirements of long-term plasticity in interneurons.
PMCID: PMC2151977  PMID: 17442249

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