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J Neurosci. 2013 Sep 4;33(36):14359-68. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1748-13.2013.

Cortical balance of excitation and inhibition is regulated by the rate of synaptic activity.

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Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.


Cortical activity is determined by the balance between excitation and inhibition. To examine how shifts in brain activity affect this balance, we recorded spontaneous excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs into layer 4 neurons from rat somatosensory cortex while altering the depth of anesthesia. The rate of excitatory and inhibitory events was reduced by ∼50% when anesthesia was deepened. However, whereas both the amplitude and width of inhibitory synaptic events profoundly increased under deep anesthesia, those of excitatory events were unaffected. These effects were found using three different types of anesthetics, suggesting that they are caused by the network state and not by local specific action of the anesthetics. To test our hypothesis that the size of inhibitory events increased because of the decreased rate of synaptic activity under deep anesthesia, we blocked cortical excitation and replayed the slow and fast patterns of inhibitory inputs using intracortical electrical stimulation. Evoked inhibition was larger under low-frequency stimulation, and, importantly, this change occurred regardless of the depth of anesthesia. Hence, shifts in the balance between excitation and inhibition across distinct states of cortical activity can be explained by the rate of inhibitory inputs combined with their short-term plasticity properties, regardless of the actual global brain activity.

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