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Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2019 Jul 24;11:20. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2019.00020. eCollection 2019.

Approaches and Limitations in the Investigation of Synaptic Transmission and Plasticity.

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Department of Neurology & Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.


The numbers and strengths of synapses in the brain change throughout development, and even into adulthood, as synaptic inputs are added, eliminated, and refined in response to ongoing neural activity. A number of experimental techniques can assess these changes, including single-cell electrophysiological recording which offers measurements of synaptic inputs with high temporal resolution. Coupled with electrical stimulation, photoactivatable opsins, and caged compounds, to facilitate fine spatiotemporal control over release of neurotransmitters, electrophysiological recordings allow for precise dissection of presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms of action. Here, we discuss the strengths and pitfalls of various techniques commonly used to analyze synapses, including miniature excitatory/inhibitory (E/I) postsynaptic currents, evoked release, and optogenetic stimulation. Together, these techniques can provide multiple lines of convergent evidence to generate meaningful insight into the emergence of circuit connectivity and maturation. A full understanding of potential caveats and alternative explanations for findings is essential to avoid data misinterpretation.


LTP (long term potentiation); analysis; electrophysiology; evoked potential; mEPSCs; spontaneous release; synapse

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