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Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Oct;20(7):1803-10.

Presynaptic source of quantal size variability at GABAergic synapses in rat hippocampal neurons in culture.

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Neuroscience Program, International School for Advanced Studies, Via Beirut 2-4, 34014 Trieste, Italy.


The variability of quantal size depends on both presynaptic (profile of the neurotransmitter concentration in the cleft) and postsynaptic (number and gating properties of postsynaptic receptors) factors. Here we have examined the possibility that at nonsaturated synapses in cultured hippocampal neurons, changes in both the transmitter concentration peak and its clearance from the synaptic cleft may influence the variability of spontaneous miniature synaptic GABAergic currents (mIPSCs). We found that, in contrast to the slow-off GABAA receptor antagonist bicuculline, fast-off competitive antagonists such as SR-95103 and TPMPA differentially blocked small and large mIPSCs. In the presence of flurazepam, a drug believed to increase the affinity of GABA for GABAAR, small mIPSCs were enhanced more efficiently than large events. Moreover, the addition of dextran, which increases the viscosity of the extracellular fluid, preferentially increased small mIPSCs with respect to large ones. These observations suggest that changes in the concentration peak and the speed of GABA clearance in the cleft may be an important source of synaptic variability. The study of the correlation between peak amplitude and kinetics of mIPSCs allowed determination of the relative contribution of transmitter peak concentration vs. time of GABA clearance. Small synaptic responses were associated with fast onset and decay kinetics while large amplitude currents were associated with slow kinetics, indicating a crucial role for GABA synaptic clearance in variability of mIPSCs. By using model simulations we were able to estimate the range of variability of both the concentration and the speed of clearance of the GABA transient in the synaptic cleft.

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