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J Neurosci. 2011 Jun 29;31(26):9526-37. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0458-11.2011.

Postnatal development of intrinsic and synaptic properties transforms signaling in the layer 5 excitatory neural network of the visual cortex.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge CB2 OQH, United Kingdom.


Information flow in neocortical circuits is regulated by two key parameters: intrinsic neuronal properties and the short-term activity-dependent plasticity of synaptic transmission. Using multineuronal whole-cell voltage recordings, we characterized the postnatal maturation of the electrophysiological properties and short-term plasticity of excitatory synaptic transmission between pairs of layer 5 (L5) pyramidal neurons (n = 158) in acute slices of rat visual cortex over the first postnatal month. We found that the intrinsic and synaptic properties of L5 pyramidal neurons develop in parallel. Before postnatal day 15 (P15), intrinsic electrophysiological properties were tuned to low-frequency operation, characterized by high apparent input resistance, a long membrane time constant, and prolonged somatic action potentials. Unitary excitatory synaptic potentials were of large amplitude (P11-P15; median, 514 μV), but showed pronounced use-dependent depression during prolonged regular and physiologically relevant presynaptic action potential firing patterns. In contrast, in mature animals we observed a developmental decline of the peak amplitude of unitary EPSPs (P25-P29; median, 175 μV) paralleled by a decrease in apparent input resistance, membrane time constant, and somatic action potential duration. Notably, synaptic signaling of complex action potential firing patterns was also transformed, with P25-P29 connections faithfully signaling action potential trains at frequencies up to 40 Hz (1st to 50th action potential ratio, 0.91 ± 0.12). Postnatal refinement of intrinsic properties and short-term plasticity therefore transforms the capacity of the L5 excitatory neural network of the visual cortex to generate and process patterns of action potential firing and contribute to network activity.

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