Neural circuits are endowed with several forms of intrinsic and synaptic plasticity that could contribute to adaptive changes in behavior, but circuit complexities have hindered linking specific cellular mechanisms with their behavioral consequences. Eye movements generated by simple brainstem circuits provide a means for relating cellular plasticity to behavioral gain control. Here we show that firing rate potentiation, a form of intrinsic plasticity mediated by reductions in BK-type calcium-activated potassium currents in spontaneously firing neurons, is engaged during optokinetic reflex compensation for inner ear dysfunction. Vestibular loss triggers transient increases in postsynaptic excitability, occlusion of firing rate potentiation, and reductions in BK currents in vestibular nucleus neurons. Concurrently, adaptive increases in visually evoked eye movements rapidly restore oculomotor function in wild-type mice but are profoundly impaired in BK channel-null mice. Activity-dependent regulation of intrinsic excitability may be a general mechanism for adaptive control of behavioral output in multisensory circuits.
Keywords: calcium-activated; calcium-dependent potassium; firing rate potentiation; intrinsic plasticity; optokinetic; vestibular; vestibulo-ocular reflex.
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