Heterogeneity and independency of unitary synaptic outputs from hippocampal CA3 pyramidal cells

J Physiol. 2012 Oct 1;590(19):4869-80. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.237685. Epub 2012 Jun 25.


The variation of individual synaptic transmission impacts the dynamics of complex neural circuits. We performed whole-cell recordings from monosynaptically connected hippocampal neurons in rat organotypic slice cultures using a synapse mapping method. The amplitude of unitary excitatory postsynaptic current (uEPSC) varied from trial to trial and was independent of the physical distance between cell pairs. To investigate the source of the transmission variability, we obtained patch-clamp recordings from intact axons. Axonal action potentials (APs) were reliably transmitted throughout the axonal arbour and showed modest changes in width. In contrast, calcium imaging from presynaptic boutons revealed that the amplitude of AP-evoked calcium transients exhibited large variations both among different boutons at a given trial and among trials in a given bouton. These results suggest that a factor contributing to the uEPSC fluctuations is the variability in calcium dynamics at presynaptic terminals. Finally, we acquired triple whole-cell recordings from divergent circuit motifs with one presynaptic neuron projecting to two postsynaptic neurons. Consistent with the independency of calcium dynamics among axonal boutons, a series of uEPSC fluctuations was not correlated between the two postsynaptic cells, indicating that different synapses even from the same neuron act independently.We conclude that the intra-bouton and inter-bouton variability in AP-induced calcium dynamics determine the heterogeneity and independency of uEPSCs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • CA3 Region, Hippocampal / cytology
  • CA3 Region, Hippocampal / physiology*
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Calcium