Key points: Purkinje cells of the cerebellum receive ∼180,000 parallel fibre synapses, which have often been viewed as a homogeneous synaptic population and studied using single action potentials. Many parallel fibre synapses might be silent, however, and granule cells in vivo fire in bursts. Here, we used trains of stimuli to study parallel fibre inputs to Purkinje cells in rat cerebellar slices. Analysis of train EPSCs revealed two synaptic components, phase 1 and 2. Phase 1 is initially large and saturates rapidly, whereas phase 2 is initially small and facilitates throughout the train. The two components have a heterogeneous distribution at dendritic sites and different pharmacological profiles. The differential sensitivity of phase 1 and phase 2 to inhibition by pentobarbital and NBQX mirrors the differential sensitivity of AMPA receptors associated with the transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory protein, γ-2, gating in the low- and high-open probability modes, respectively.
Abstract: Cerebellar granule cells fire in bursts, and their parallel fibre axons (PFs) form ∼180,000 excitatory synapses onto the dendritic tree of a Purkinje cell. As many as 85% of these synapses have been proposed to be silent, but most are labelled for AMPA receptors. Here, we studied PF to Purkinje cell synapses using trains of 100 Hz stimulation in rat cerebellar slices. The PF train EPSC consisted of two components that were present in variable proportions at different dendritic sites: one, with large initial EPSC amplitude, saturated after three stimuli and dominated the early phase of the train EPSC; and the other, with small initial amplitude, increased steadily throughout the train of 10 stimuli and dominated the late phase of the train EPSC. The two phases also displayed different pharmacological profiles. Phase 2 was less sensitive to inhibition by NBQX but more sensitive to block by pentobarbital than phase 1. Comparison of synaptic results with fast glutamate applications to recombinant receptors suggests that the high-open-probability gating mode of AMPA receptors containing the auxiliary subunit transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory protein γ-2 makes a substantial contribution to phase 2. We argue that the two synaptic components arise from AMPA receptors with different functional signatures and synaptic distributions. Comparisons of voltage- and current-clamp responses obtained from the same Purkinje cells indicate that phase 1 of the EPSC arises from synapses ideally suited to transmit short bursts of action potentials, whereas phase 2 is likely to arise from low-release-probability or 'silent' synapses that are recruited during longer bursts.
© 2016 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2016 The Physiological Society.