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Nature. 2000 Mar 30;404(6777):498-502.

Glutamate spillover suppresses inhibition by activating presynaptic mGluRs.

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Department of Physiology, University College London, UK.


Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) found on synaptic terminals throughout the brain are thought to be important in modulating neurotransmission. Activation of mGluRs by synaptically released glutamate depresses glutamate release from excitatory terminals but the physiological role of mGluRs on inhibitory terminals is unclear. We have investigated activation of mGluRs on inhibitory terminals within the cerebellar glomerulus, a structure in which GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)-releasing inhibitory terminals and glutamatergic excitatory terminals are in close apposition and make axo-dendritic synapses onto granule cells. Here we show that 'spillover' of glutamate, which is released from excitatory mossy fibres, inhibits GABA release from Golgi cell terminals by activating presynaptic mGluRs under physiological conditions. The magnitude of the depression of the inhibitory postsynaptic current is dependent on the frequency of mossy fibre stimulation, reaching 50% at 100 Hz. Furthermore, the duration of inhibitory postsynaptic current depression mirrors the time course of mossy fibre activity. Our results establish that mGluRs on inhibitory interneuron axons sense the activity of neighbouring excitatory synapses. This heterosynaptic mechanism is likely to boost the efficacy of active excitatory fibres by locally reducing the level of inhibition.

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