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J Neurophysiol. 2016 Jun 1;115(6):2814-29. doi: 10.1152/jn.00094.2016. Epub 2016 Mar 9.

Unitary synaptic connections among substantia nigra pars reticulata neurons.

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Department of Biology, The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
Department of Biology, The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas.


Neurons in substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) are synaptically coupled by local axon collaterals, providing a potential mechanism for local signal processing. Because SNr neurons fire spontaneously, these synapses are constantly active. To investigate their properties, we recorded spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) from SNr neurons in brain slices, in which afferents from upstream nuclei are severed, and the cells fire rhythmically. The sIPSC trains contained a mixture of periodic and aperiodic events. Autocorrelation analysis of sIPSC trains showed that a majority of cells had one to four active unitary inputs. The properties of the unitary IPSCs (uIPSCs) were analyzed for cells with one unitary input, using a model of periodic presynaptic firing and stochastic synaptic transmission. The inferred presynaptic firing rates and coefficient of variation of interspike intervals (ISIs) corresponded well with direct measurements of spiking in SNr neurons. Methods were developed to estimate the success probability, amplitude distributions, and kinetics of the uIPSCs, while removing the contribution from aperiodic sIPSCs. The sIPSC amplitudes were not increased upon release from halorhodopsin silencing, suggesting that most synapses were not depressed at the spontaneous firing rate. Gramicidin perforated-patch recordings indicated that the average reversal potential of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials was -64 mV. Because of the change in driving force across the ISI, the unitary inputs are predicted to have a larger postsynaptic impact when they arrive late in the ISI. Simulations of network activity suggest that this very sparse inhibitory coupling may act to desynchronize the activity of SNr neurons while having only a small effect on firing rate.


axon collaterals; desynchronization; substantia nigra

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