Acetylcholine release and activation of muscarinic cholinergic receptors (mAChRs) enhance synaptic plasticity in vitro and cognition and memory in vivo. Within the hippocampus, mAChRs promote NMDA-type glutamate receptor-dependent forms of long-term potentiation. Here, we use calcium (Ca) imaging combined with two-photon laser glutamate uncaging at apical spines of CA1 pyramidal neurons to examine postsynaptic mechanisms of muscarinic modulation of glutamatergic transmission. Uncaging-evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials and Ca transients are increased by muscarinic stimulation; however, this is not due to direct modulation of glutamate receptors. Instead, mAChRs modulate a negative feedback loop in spines that normally suppresses synaptic signals. mAChR activation reduces the Ca sensitivity of small conductance Ca-activated potassium (SK) channels that are found in the spine, resulting in increased synaptic potentials and Ca transients. These effects are mediated by M1-type muscarinic receptors and occur in a casein kinase-2-dependent manner. Thus, muscarinic modulation regulates synaptic transmission by tuning the activity of nonglutamatergic postsynaptic ion channels.
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