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Nat Neurosci. 2015 Jan;18(1):56-65. doi: 10.1038/nn.3895. Epub 2014 Dec 8.

Synaptic and circuit mechanisms promoting broadband transmission of olfactory stimulus dynamics.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Sensory stimuli fluctuate on many timescales. However, short-term plasticity causes synapses to act as temporal filters, limiting the range of frequencies that they can transmit. How synapses in vivo might transmit a range of frequencies in spite of short-term plasticity is poorly understood. The first synapse in the Drosophila olfactory system exhibits short-term depression, but can transmit broadband signals. Here we describe two mechanisms that broaden the frequency characteristics of this synapse. First, two distinct excitatory postsynaptic currents transmit signals on different timescales. Second, presynaptic inhibition dynamically updates synaptic properties to promote accurate transmission of signals across a wide range of frequencies. Inhibition is transient, but grows slowly, and simulations reveal that these two features of inhibition promote broadband synaptic transmission. Dynamic inhibition is often thought to restrict the temporal patterns that a neuron responds to, but our results illustrate a different idea: inhibition can expand the bandwidth of neural coding.

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