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Int J Dev Neurosci. 1994 Nov;12(7):611-21.

Activity-dependent plasticity of inhibitory and excitatory amino acid transmitter systems in cultured rat cerebral cortex.

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Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Graduate School Neurosciences Amsterdam.


Chronic suppression of spontaneous bioelectric activity in cultures of dissociated fetal rat cerebral cortex increases neuronal cell death and results in electrophysiological changes which indicate an altered balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in culture. To delineate whether alterations in neurotransmitter release could underlie this imbalance, we investigated the effects of chronic tetrodotoxin (TTX) treatment on the content and release of glutamate, aspartate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in culture. Chronic TTX treatment decreased the content of all amino acids investigated. However, only GABA was decreased relative to the neuronal marker NSE (neuron-specific enolase), indicating a disproportionate loss of GABA production following chronic silencing. Depolarization-induced release of GABA, glutamate and aspartate increased about 10-fold between 7 and 21 days in control cultures. Chronic TTX treatment significantly increased the depolarization-induced release of glutamate and aspartate at 7 days in vitro relative to control levels. At all ages it caused a two-fold increase in the ratio of evoked excitatory amino acid release to that of GABA. These observations suggest that chronic silencing of developing neocortex cell cultures increases the ratio of excitatory to inhibitory synaptic activity either by differential cell death or by reduced synaptic efficiency, on which a decrease in GABA neurotransmission appears to play a major role. Since similar mechanisms may be involved in activity-dependent plasticity in vivo, these cultures provide a useful model to analyse this phenomenon at the cell biological and molecular level.

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