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Neuron. 2005 Feb 3;45(3):419-31.

Associative short-term synaptic plasticity mediated by endocannabinoids.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Associative learning is important on rapid timescales, but no suitable form of short-term plasticity has been identified that is both associative and synapse specific. Here, we assess whether endocannabinoids can mediate such plasticity. In the cerebellum, bursts of parallel fiber (PF) activity evoke endocannabinoid release from Purkinje cell dendrites that results in retrograde synaptic inhibition lasting seconds. We find that the powerful climbing fiber (CF) to Purkinje cell synapse regulates this inhibition. Compared to PF stimulation alone, coactivation of PF and CF synapses greatly enhanced endocannabinoid-mediated inhibition of PF synapses. Retrograde inhibition was restricted to PFs activated within several hundred milliseconds of CF activation. This associative plasticity reflects two aspects of calcium-dependent endocannabinoid release. First, PF-mediated activation of metabotropic glutamate receptors locally reduced the dendritic calcium levels required for endocannabinoid release. Second, CF and PF coactivation evoked localized supralinear dendritic calcium signals. Thus, endocannabinoids mediate transient associative synaptic plasticity.

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