Transiently higher release probability during critical period at thalamocortical synapses in the mouse barrel cortex: relevance to differential short-term plasticity of AMPA and NMDA EPSCs and possible involvement of silent synapses

Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Dec;20(11):3006-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2004.03756.x.


Thalamocortical connections undergo remarkable plasticity during the critical period and mounting evidence serves to demonstrate that the activation of silent synapses at postsynaptic sites is an important underlying mechanism in this process. However, relatively little is known about the nature of the presynaptic properties. In the present study, we examined the release probability (Pr) of thalamocortical synaptic terminals on a layer IV neuron in the developing mouse barrel cortex. Using the conventional paired-pulse ratio (PPR) method, both AMPA and NMDA receptor-mediated PPR were observed during development. We found that the NMDA PPR increased gradually (thus, a reduction in Pr) from postnatal day (P)4 to P22 but, unexpectedly, the AMPA PPR exhibited a simultaneous decrease. We then used an additional method for assessing release probability, the observation of a progressive block of NMDA receptor-mediated EPSCs using MK-801. With this method, we were able to identify two classes of terminals with high or low probabilities of release. Interestingly, the higher release showed a reduction in probability during the critical period, consistent with the NMDA PPR results. We confirmed that the discrepancy between the NMDA and the AMPA PPR results was due to the existence of silent, or NMDA-only, synapses, as suggested in previous literature. By analysing the correlation between the NMDA or AMPA PPR and the PPR discrepancy, we discuss the hypothesis that the terminals with transiently higher probability of release were found preferentially on silent synapses. Our results suggest that these presynaptic sites may also have an active role in plasticity by working concomitantly with postsynaptic sites during the critical period.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Critical Period, Psychological*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / radiation effects
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • N-Methylaspartate / metabolism*
  • N-Methylaspartate / pharmacology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / growth & development
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / radiation effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / radiation effects
  • Time Factors
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid / metabolism*
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid / pharmacology


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid