Silent Synapses in the Developing Rat Visual Cortex: Evidence for Postsynaptic Expression of Synaptic Plasticity
Journal of Neuroscience
In the developing visual cortex activity-dependent refinement of synaptic connectivity is thought to involve synaptic plasticity processes analogous to long-term potentiation (LTP). The recently described conversion of so-called silent synapses to functional ones might underlie some forms of LTP. Using wholecell recording and minimal stimulation procedures in immature pyramidal neurons, we demonstrate here the existence of functionally silent synapses, i.e., glutamatergic synapses that show
... apses that show only NMDA receptor-mediated transmission, in the neonatal rat visual cortex. The incidence of silent synapses strongly decreased during early postnatal development. After pairing presynaptic stimulation with postsynaptic depolarization, silent synapses were converted to functional ones in an LTP-like manner, as indicated by the long-lasting induction of AMPA receptor-mediated synaptic transmission. This conversion was dependent on the activation of NMDA receptors during the pairing protocol. The selective activation of NMDA receptors at silent synapses could be explained presynaptically by assuming a lower glutamate concentration compared with functional ones. However, we found no differences in glutamate concentrationdependent properties of NMDA receptor-mediated PSCs, suggesting that synaptic glutamate concentration is similar in silent and functional synapses. Our results thus support a postsynaptic mechanism underlying silent synapses, i.e., that they do not contain functional AMPA receptors. Synaptic plasticity at silent synapses might be expressed postsynaptically by modification of nonfunctional AMPA receptors or rapid membrane insertion of AMPA receptors. This conversion of silent synapses to functional ones might play a major role in activity-dependent synaptic refinement during development of the visual cortex.