Synapse-specific regulation revealed at single synapses is concealed when recording multiple synapses

Justin Lines, Ana Covelo, Ricardo Gómez, Lan Liu, Alfonso Araque

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Synaptic transmission and its activity-dependent modulation, known as synaptic plasticity, are fundamental processes in nervous system function. Neurons may receive thousands of synaptic contacts, but synaptic regulation may occur only at individual or discrete subsets of synapses, which may have important consequences on the spatial extension of the modulation of synaptic information. Moreover, while several electrophysiological methods are used to assess synaptic transmission at different levels of observation, i.e., through local field potential and individual whole-cell recordings, their experimental limitations to detect synapse-specific modulation is poorly defined. We have investigated how well-known synapse-specific short-term plasticity, where some synapses are regulated and others left unregulated, mediated by astrocytes and endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling can be assessed at different observational levels. Using hippocampal slices, we have combined local field potential and whole-cell recordings of CA3-CA1 synaptic activity evoked by Schaffer collateral stimulation of either multiple or single synapses through bulk or minimal stimulation, respectively, to test the ability to detect short-term synaptic changes induced by eCB signaling. We also developed a mathematical model assuming a bimodal distribution of regulated and unregulated synapses based on realistic experimental data to simulate physiological results and to predict the experimental requirements of the different recording methods to detect discrete changes in subsets of synapses. We show that eCB-induced depolarization-induced suppression of excitation (DSE) and astrocyte-mediated synaptic potentiation can be observed when monitoring single or few synapses, but are statistically concealed when recording the activity of a large number of synapses. These results indicate that the electrophysiological methodology is critical to properly assess synaptic changes occurring in subsets of synapses, and they suggest that relevant synapse-specific regulatory phenomena may be experimentally undetected but may have important implications in the spatial extension of synaptic plasticity phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number367
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
StatePublished - Nov 23 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors thank Ruth Quintana for technical assistance and Mario Martin Fernandez, Michelle Corkrum, Caitlin Durkee and Austin Ferro for helpful comments. This work was supported by Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO)-Juan de la Cierva Program (JCI-2011-09144) to RG, University of Minnesota (UMN) CLA to LL, NIH-National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS; R01NS097312-01) and Human Frontier Science Program (Research Grant RGP0036/2014) to AA.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Lines, Covelo, Gómez, Liu and Araque.


  • Astrocytes
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Minimal stimulation
  • Synapse
  • Synapse specific
  • Synaptic efficacy
  • Synaptic plasticity


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