Mossy fiber synapses on CA3 pyramidal cells are 'conditional detonators' that reliably discharge postsynaptic targets. The 'conditional' nature implies that burst activity in dentate gyrus granule cells is required for detonation. Whether single unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) trigger spikes in CA3 neurons remains unknown. Mossy fiber synapses exhibit both pronounced short-term facilitation and uniquely large post-tetanic potentiation (PTP). We tested whether PTP could convert mossy fiber synapses from subdetonator into detonator mode, using a recently developed method to selectively and noninvasively stimulate individual presynaptic terminals in rat brain slices. Unitary EPSPs failed to initiate a spike in CA3 neurons under control conditions, but reliably discharged them after induction of presynaptic short-term plasticity. Remarkably, PTP switched mossy fiber synapses into full detonators for tens of seconds. Plasticity-dependent detonation may be critical for efficient coding, storage, and recall of information in the granule cell-CA3 cell network.
Keywords: dentate gyrus; detonator synapse; hippocampus; neuroscience; post tetanic potentiation; rat; synaptic plasticity.