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J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 7;32(45):16007-17. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2584-12.2012.

Short-term synaptic plasticity compensates for variability in number of motor neurons at a neuromuscular junction.

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Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida, St. Augustine, Florida 32080, USA.


We studied how similar postsynaptic responses are maintained in the face of interindividual variability in the number of presynaptic neurons. In the stomatogastric ganglion of the lobster, Homarus americanus, the pyloric (PY) neurons exist in variable numbers across animals. We show that each individual fiber of the stomach muscles innervated by PY neurons received synaptic input from all neurons present. We performed intracellular recordings of excitatory junction potentials (EJPs) in the muscle fibers to determine the consequences of differences in the number of motor neurons. Despite the variability in neuron number, the compound electrical response of muscle fibers to natural bursting input was similar across individuals. The similarity of total synaptic activation was not due to differences in the spiking activity of individual motor neurons across animals with different numbers of PY neurons. The amplitude of a unitary EJP in response to a single spike in a single motor neuron also did not depend on the number of PY neurons present. Consequently, the compound EJP in response to a single stimulus that activated all motor axons present was larger in individuals with more PY neurons. However, when axons were stimulated with trains of pulses mimicking bursting activity, EJPs facilitated more in individuals with fewer PY neurons. After a few stimuli, this resulted in depolarizations similar to the ones in individuals with more PY neurons. We interpret our findings as evidence that compensatory or homeostatic regulatory mechanisms can act on short-term synaptic dynamics instead of absolute synaptic strength.

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