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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Oct;104(4):2063-74. doi: 10.1152/jn.00474.2010. Epub 2010 Aug 11.

Neuromodulation by GABA converts a relay into a coincidence detector.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, 109 Cooke Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA.


Modulation of synaptic strength by γ-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABARs) is a common feature in sensory pathways that contain relay cell types. However, the functional impact of these receptors on information processing is not clear. We considered this issue at bushy cells (BCs) in the cochlear nucleus, which relay auditory nerve (AN) activity to higher centers. BCs express GABA(A)Rs, and synaptic inputs to BCs express GABA(B)Rs. We tested the effects of GABAR activation on the relaying of AN activity using patch-clamp recordings in mature mouse brain slices at 34°C. GABA affected BC firing in response to trains of AN activity at concentrations as low as 10 μM. GABA(A)Rs reduced firing primarily late in high-frequency trains, whereas GABA(B)Rs reduced firing early and in low-frequency trains. BC firing was significantly restored when two converging AN inputs were activated simultaneously, with maximal effect over a window of <0.5 ms. Thus GABA could adjust the function of BCs, to suppress the relaying of individual inputs and require coincident activity of multiple inputs.

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