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Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Oct;16(7):1325-32.

Synaptic plasticity in the acoustic startle pathway: the neuronal basis for short-term habituation?

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Animal Physiology, Zoological Institute, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The aim of the present study was to analyse the cellular mechanism underlying short-term habituation of the acoustic startle response (ASR). We explored distinct synapses of the neuronal startle pathway in rat brain slices by patch-clamp recordings of giant neurons in the caudal pontine reticular formation. Presynaptic stimulation of auditory afferents by repeated bursts at 0.1 and 1 Hz led to an exponential decay of EPSC magnitudes. This homosynaptic depression (HSD) was reversible and repeatedly inducible after recovery. Many parameters of HSD in vitro match those of ASR habituation in vivo. The mechanisms underlying HSD are distinct from classical short-term plasticity: paired-pulse as well as paired-burst stimulation revealed a facilitation of the second EPSC, occurring in a much smaller time window up to interstimulus intervals of 200 ms. Pharmacological experiments demonstrated that HSD could be completely blocked by the group II and III metabotropic glutamate receptor antagonist MPPG. Similar results were obtained by CPPG, another group II and III antagonist. In contrast, HSD was not affected by the group I and II antagonist MCPG. We conclude that we found a form of synaptic depression in synapses within the primary startle pathway which correlates in many respects with short-term habituation of the ASR and which is presumably mediated by group III metabotropic glutamate receptors.

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