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Neuron. 2009 Apr 16;62(1):112-22. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.02.022.

Noradrenergic control of associative synaptic plasticity by selective modulation of instructive signals.

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


Synapses throughout the brain are modified through associative mechanisms in which one input provides an instructive signal for changes in the strength of a second coactivated input. In cerebellar Purkinje cells, climbing fiber synapses provide an instructive signal for plasticity at parallel fiber synapses. Here, we show that noradrenaline activates alpha2-adrenergic receptors to control short-term and long-term associative plasticity of parallel fiber synapses. This regulation of plasticity does not reflect a conventional direct modulation of the postsynaptic Purkinje cell or presynaptic parallel fibers. Instead, noradrenaline reduces associative plasticity by selectively decreasing the probability of release at the climbing fiber synapse, which in turn decreases climbing fiber-evoked dendritic calcium signals. These findings raise the possibility that targeted presynaptic modulation of instructive synapses could provide a general mechanism for dynamic context-dependent modulation of associative plasticity.

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