Impact of synaptic depression on spike timing at the endbulb of Held

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Sep;102(3):1699-710. doi: 10.1152/jn.00072.2009. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


Many synapses show short-term depression, but it is not well understood what functional purpose depression serves and whether its effects are beneficial or detrimental to information processing. We study this issue at the synapse made by auditory-nerve (AN) fibers onto bushy cells (BCs) of the cochlear nucleus, called the "endbulb of Held." AN fibers carry timing information about sounds and converge on BCs, which relay timing information to brain areas responsible for sound localization. Dynamic-clamp recordings of BCs in mouse brain slices indicated that nonphase-locked inputs influenced the contribution of phase-locked inputs when all inputs had equal strength. We evaluated whether this situation depended on activity-dependent synaptic plasticity. Voltage-clamp recordings indicated that the amount of depression varied over the population of endbulbs, but sibling endbulbs terminating on the same BC had similar plasticity. We tested the effects of endbulb depression on BC spiking using dynamic clamp. Under most conditions, increasing depression led to lower probability of BC spiking. However, the effects on spike timing were highly context dependent. When all inputs carried uniform timing information, depression indirectly affected BC spike precision, by determining how many inputs were required to cross threshold. Earlier work has indicated that this interacts with the temporal distribution of inputs to determine BC spike precision. When inputs carried different timing information, depression greatly improved BC precision by suppressing highly active inputs carrying little phase-locked information. These data suggest that endbulbs with different depression characteristics could produce BCs that enhance response probability or timing under different stimulus conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Cochlear Nerve / physiology*
  • Cochlear Nucleus / cytology*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Reaction Time
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Time Factors