The impact of synaptic conductance on action potential waveform: evoking realistic action potentials with a simulated synaptic conductance

J Neurosci Methods. 2009 Oct 15;183(2):158-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2009.06.025. Epub 2009 Jun 26.


Most current clamp studies trigger action potentials (APs) by step current injection through the recording electrode and assume that the resulting APs are essentially identical to those triggered by orthodromic synaptic inputs. However this assumption is not always valid, particularly when the synaptic conductance is of large magnitude and of close proximity to the axon initial segment. We addressed this question of similarity using the Calyx of Held/MNTB synapse; we compared APs evoked by long duration step current injections, short step current injections and orthodromic synaptic stimuli. Neither injected current protocol evoked APs that matched the evoked orthodromic AP waveform, showing differences in AP height, half-width and after-hyperpolarization. We postulated that this 'error' could arise from changes in the instantaneous conductance during the combined synaptic and AP waveforms, since the driving forces for the respective ionic currents are integrating and continually evolving over this time-course. We demonstrate that a simple Ohm's law manipulation of the EPSC waveform, which accounts for the evolving driving force on the synaptic conductance during the AP, produces waveforms that closely mimic those generated by physiological synaptic stimulation. This stimulation paradigm allows supra-threshold physiological stimulation (single stimuli or trains) without the variability caused by quantal fluctuation in transmitter release, and can be implemented without a specialised dynamic clamp system. Combined with pharmacological tools this method provides a reliable means to assess the physiological roles of postsynaptic ion channels without confounding affects from the presynaptic input.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biophysics
  • Brain / cytology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / physiology*