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J Physiol. 1999 Nov 15;521 Pt 1:123-33.

Depletion of calcium in the synaptic cleft of a calyx-type synapse in the rat brainstem.

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Max-Planck-Institut fur medizinische Forschung, Abteilung Zellphysiologie, Jahnstrasse 29, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


1. A new form of synaptic depression of excitatory synaptic transmission was observed when making voltage-clamp recordings from large presynaptic terminals, the calyces of Held and postsynaptic cells, the principal cells of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), in slices of the rat auditory brainstem. 2. A short (100 ms) depolarization of the postsynaptic cell to 0 mV reduced the amplitude of the EPSCs by 35 +/- 5 % (n = 7), measured at 10 ms following the depolarization. Recovery occurred within 0.5 s. 3. The reduction of the EPSCs was most probably due to reduced presynaptic calcium influx, since postsynaptic depolarization reduced presynaptic calcium or barium currents. Conversely, presynaptic depolarization also reduced postsynaptic calcium or barium influx, under conditions where transmitter release was minimal. 4. The calcium currents and the postsynaptic depolarization-induced suppression of synaptic transmission recovered with a similar time course, suggesting that this form of synaptic depression was, most probably, due to depletion of Ca2+ in the synaptic cleft. 5. We conclude that when the Ca2+ influx into the pre- or postsynaptic cell is large, extracellular Ca2+ is depleted. Under these conditions, the Ca2+ concentration in the synaptic cleft is a sensitive indicator of the level of synaptic activity. However, the synaptic cleft is less sensitive to Ca2+ depletion than predicted from its estimated volume.

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