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J Physiol Paris. 2008 Jul-Nov;102(4-6):233-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Oct 17.

Dendritic backpropagation and synaptic plasticity in the mormyrid electrosensory lobe.

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  • 1Unité de Neurosciences Intégratives et Computationnelles, CNRS, Gif sur Yvette, France.


This study is concerned with the origin of backpropagating action potentials in GABAergic, medium ganglionic layer neurones (MG-cells) of the mormyrid electrosensory lobe (ELL). The characteristically broad action potentials of these neurones are required for the expression of spike timing dependent plasticity (STDP) at afferent parallel fibre synapses. It has been suggested that this involves active conductances in MG-cell apical dendrites, which constitute a major component of the ELL molecular layer. Immunohistochemistry showed dense labelling of voltage gated sodium channels (VGSC) throughout the molecular layer, as well as in the ganglionic layer containing MG somata, and in the plexiform and upper granule cell layers of ELL. Potassium channel labelling was sparse, being most abundant in the deep fibre layer and the nucleus of the electrosensory lobe. Intracellular recordings from MG-cells in vitro, made in conjunction with voltage sensitive dye measurements, confirmed that dendritic backpropagation is active over at least the inner half of the molecular layer. Focal TTX applications demonstrated that in most case the origin of the backpropagating action potentials is in the proximal dendrites, whereas the small narrow spikes also seen in these neurones most likely originate in the axon. It had been speculated that the slow time course of membrane repolarisation following the broad action potentials was due to a poor expression of potassium channels in the dendritic compartments, or to their voltage- or calcium-sensitive inactivation. However application of TEA and 4AP confirmed that both A-type and delayed rectifying potassium channels normally contribute to membrane repolarisation following dendritic and axonal spikes. An alternative explanation for the shape of MG action potentials is that they represent the summation of active events occurring more or less synchronously in distal dendrites. Coincidence of backpropagating action potentials with parallel fibre input produces a strong local depolarisation that could be sufficient to cause local secretion of GABA, which might then cause plastic change through an action on presynaptic GABA(B) receptors. However, STP depression remained robust in the presence of GABAB receptor antagonists.

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