Short term synaptic depression imposes a frequency dependent filter on synaptic information transfer

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(6):e1002557. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002557. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


Depletion of synaptic neurotransmitter vesicles induces a form of short term depression in synapses throughout the nervous system. This plasticity affects how synapses filter presynaptic spike trains. The filtering properties of short term depression are often studied using a deterministic synapse model that predicts the mean synaptic response to a presynaptic spike train, but ignores variability introduced by the probabilistic nature of vesicle release and stochasticity in synaptic recovery time. We show that this additional variability has important consequences for the synaptic filtering of presynaptic information. In particular, a synapse model with stochastic vesicle dynamics suppresses information encoded at lower frequencies more than information encoded at higher frequencies, while a model that ignores this stochasticity transfers information encoded at any frequency equally well. This distinction between the two models persists even when large numbers of synaptic contacts are considered. Our study provides strong evidence that the stochastic nature neurotransmitter vesicle dynamics must be considered when analyzing the information flow across a synapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents