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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Jul;86(1):492-502.

Transition from GABAergic to glycinergic synaptic transmission in newly formed spinal networks.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Center for Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


The role of glycinergic and GABAergic systems in mediating spontaneous synaptic transmission in newly formed neural networks was examined in motoneurons in the developing rat spinal cord. Properties of action potential-independent miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) mediated by glycine and GABA(A) receptors (GlyR and GABA(A)R) were studied in spinal cord slices of 17- to 18-day-old embryos (E17-18) and 1- to 3-day-old postnatal rats (P1-3). mIPSC frequency and amplitude significantly increased after birth, while their decay time decreased. To determine the contribution of glycinergic and GABAergic synapses to those changes, GlyR- and GABA(A)R-mediated mIPSCs were isolated based on their pharmacological properties. Two populations of pharmacologically distinct mIPSCs were recorded in the presence of glycine or GABA(A) receptors antagonists: bicuculline-resistant, fast-decaying GlyR-mediated mIPSCs, and strychnine-resistant, slow-decaying GABA(A)R-mediated mIPSCs. The frequency of GABA(A)R-mediated mIPSCs was fourfold higher than that of GlyR-mediated mIPSCs at E17-18, indicating that GABAergic synaptic sites were functionally dominant at early stages of neural network formation. Properties of GABA(A)R-mediated mIPSC amplitude fluctuations changed from primarily unimodal skewed distribution at E17-18 to Gaussian mixtures with two to three discrete components at P1-3. A developmental shift from primarily long-duration GABAergic mIPSCs to short-duration glycinergic mIPSCs was evident after birth, when the frequency of GlyR-mediated mIPSCs increased 10-fold. This finding suggested that either the number of glycinergic synapses or the probability of vesicular glycine release increased during the period studied. The increased frequency of GlyR-mediated mIPSCs was associated with more than a twofold increase in their mean amplitude, and in the number of motoneurons in which mIPSC amplitude fluctuations were best fitted by multi-component Gaussian curves. A third subpopulation of mIPSCs was apparent in the absence of glycine and GABA(A) receptor antagonists: mIPSCs with both fast and slow decaying components. Based on their dual-component decay time and their suppression by either strychnine or bicuculline, we assumed that these were generated by the activation of co-localized postsynaptic glycine and GABA(A) receptors. The contribution of mixed glycine-GABA synaptic sites to the generation of mIPSCs did not change after birth. The developmental switch from predominantly long-duration GABAergic inhibitory synaptic currents to short-duration glycinergic currents might serve as a mechanism regulating neuronal excitation in the developing spinal networks.

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