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J Neurosci. 2006 Oct 25;26(43):11001-13.

Spine Ca2+ signaling in spike-timing-dependent plasticity.

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Department of Cell Physiology, Max-Planck Institute for Medical Research, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Calcium is a second messenger, which can trigger the modification of synaptic efficacy. We investigated the question of whether a differential rise in postsynaptic Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) alone is sufficient to account for the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) of EPSPs in the basal dendrites of layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons of the somatosensory cortex. Volume-averaged [Ca2+]i transients were measured in spines of the basal dendritic arbor for spike-timing-dependent plasticity induction protocols. The rise in [Ca2+]i was uncorrelated to the direction of the change in synaptic efficacy, because several pairing protocols evoked similar spine [Ca2+]i transients but resulted in either LTP or LTD. The sequence dependence of near-coincident presynaptic and postsynaptic activity on the direction of changes in synaptic strength suggested that LTP and LTD were induced by two processes, which were controlled separately by postsynaptic [Ca2+]i levels. Activation of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels before metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) resulted in the phospholipase C-dependent (PLC-dependent) synthesis of endocannabinoids, which acted as a retrograde messenger to induce LTD. LTP required a large [Ca2+]i transient evoked by NMDA receptor activation. Blocking mGluRs abolished the induction of LTD and uncovered the Ca2+-dependent induction of LTP. We conclude that the volume-averaged peak elevation of [Ca2+]i in spines of layer 2/3 pyramids determines the magnitude of long-term changes in synaptic efficacy. The direction of the change is controlled, however, via a mGluR-coupled signaling cascade. mGluRs act in conjunction with PLC as sequence-sensitive coincidence detectors when postsynaptic precede presynaptic action potentials to induce LTD. Thus presumably two different Ca2+ sensors in spines control the induction of spike-timing-dependent synaptic plasticity.

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