Mechanism for increased hippocampal synaptic strength following differential experience

J Neurophysiol. 2001 Apr;85(4):1377-83. doi: 10.1152/jn.2001.85.4.1377.


Exposure to novel environments or behavioral training is associated with increased strength at hippocampal synapses. The present study employed quantal analysis techniques to examine the mechanism supporting changes in synaptic transmission that occur following differential behavioral experience. Measures of CA1 synaptic strength were obtained from hippocampal slices of rats exposed to novel environments or maintained in individual cages. The input/output (I/O) curve of extracellularly recorded population excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) increased for animals exposed to enrichment. The amplitude of the synaptic response of the field potential was related to the fiber potential amplitude and the paired-pulse ratio, however, these measures were not altered by differential experience. Estimates of biophysical parameters of transmission were determined for intracellularly recorded unitary responses of CA1 pyramidal cells. Enrichment was associated with an increase in the mean unitary synaptic response, an increase in quantal size, and a trend for decreased input resistance and reduction in the stimulation threshold to elicit a unitary response. Paired-pulse facilitation, the percent of response failures, coefficient of variance, and estimates of quantal content were not altered by experience but correlated well with the mean unitary response amplitude. The results suggest that baseline synaptic strength is determined, to a large extent, by presynaptic release mechanisms. However, increased synaptic transmission following environmental enrichment is likely due to an increase in the number or efficacy of receptors at some synapses and the emergence of functional synaptic contacts between previously unconnected CA3 and CA1 cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Differential Threshold
  • Environment*
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Quantum Theory
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology