Synaptic excitation is regulated by the postsynaptic dSK channel at the Drosophila larval NMJ

J Neurophysiol. 2014 Jun 15;111(12):2533-43. doi: 10.1152/jn.00903.2013. Epub 2014 Mar 26.


In the mammalian central nervous system, the postsynaptic small-conductance Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) (SK) channel has been shown to reduce postsynaptic depolarization and limit Ca(2+) influx through N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors. To examine further the role of the postsynaptic SK channel in synaptic transmission, we studied its action at the Drosophila larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Repetitive synaptic stimulation produced an increase in postsynaptic membrane conductance leading to depression of excitatory postsynaptic potential amplitude and hyperpolarization of the resting membrane potential (RMP). This reduction in synaptic excitation was due to the postsynaptic Drosophila SK (dSK) channel; synaptic depression, increased membrane conductance and RMP hyperpolarization were reduced in dSK mutants or after expressing a Ca(2+) buffer in the muscle. Ca(2+) entering at the postsynaptic membrane was sufficient to activate dSK channels based upon studies in which the muscle membrane was voltage clamped to prevent opening voltage-dependent Ca(2+) channels. Increasing external Ca(2+) produced an increase in resting membrane conductance and RMP that was not seen in dSK mutants or after adding the glutamate-receptor blocker philanthotoxin. Thus it appeared that dSK channels were also activated by spontaneous transmitter release and played a role in setting membrane conductance and RMP. In mammals, dephosphorylation by protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) increased the Ca(2+) sensitivity of the SK channel; PP2A appeared to increase the sensitivity of the dSK channel since PP2A inhibitors reduced activation of the dSK channel by evoked synaptic activity or increased external Ca(2+). It is proposed that spontaneous and evoked transmitter release activate the postsynaptic dSK channel to limit synaptic excitation and stabilize synapses.

Keywords: postsynaptic Ca2+, SK channel; synaptic strength.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Drosophila
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Larva
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Muscle Cells / drug effects
  • Muscle Cells / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Neuromuscular Junction / drug effects
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology*
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism
  • Small-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Small-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Small-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels
  • Protein Phosphatase 2
  • Calcium