Plasticity of rat central inhibitory synapses through GABA metabolism

J Physiol. 2001 Sep 1;535(Pt 2):473-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00473.x.


1. The production of the central inhibitory transmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) varies in response to different patterns of activity. It therefore seems possible that GABA metabolism can determine inhibitory synaptic strength and that presynaptic GABA content is a regulated parameter for synaptic plasticity. 2. We altered presynaptic GABA metabolism in cultured rat hippocampal slices using pharmacological tools. Degradation of GABA by GABA-transaminase (GABA-T) was blocked by gamma-vinyl-GABA (GVG) and synthesis of GABA through glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) was suppressed with 3-mercaptopropionic acid (MPA). We measured miniature GABAergic postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) in CA3 pyramidal cells using the whole-cell patch clamp technique. 3. Elevated intra-synaptic GABA levels after block of GABA-T resulted in increased mIPSC amplitude and frequency. In addition, tonic GABAergic background noise was enhanced by GVG. Electron micrographs from inhibitory synapses identified by immunogold staining for GABA confirmed the enhanced GABA content but revealed no further morphological alterations. 4. The suppression of GABA synthesis by MPA had opposite functional consequences: mIPSC amplitude and frequency decreased and current noise was reduced compared with control. However, we were unable to demonstrate the decreased GABA content in biochemical analyses of whole slices or in electron micrographs. 5. We conclude that the transmitter content of GABAergic vesicles is variable and that postsynaptic receptors are usually not saturated, leaving room for up-regulation of inhibitory synaptic strength. Our data reveal a new mechanism of plasticity at central inhibitory synapses and provide a rationale for the activity-dependent regulation of GABA synthesis in mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3-Mercaptopropionic Acid / pharmacology
  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Vigabatrin / pharmacology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / biosynthesis
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • 3-Mercaptopropionic Acid
  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase
  • Vigabatrin