Changes in synaptic strength and connectivity are thought to be a major mechanism through which many gene variants cause neurological disease. Hyperactivation of the PI3K-mTOR signaling network, via loss of function of repressors such as PTEN, causes epilepsy in humans and animal models, and altered mTOR signaling may contribute to a broad range of neurological diseases. Changes in synaptic transmission have been reported in animal models of PTEN loss; however, the full extent of these changes, and their effect on network function, is still unknown. To better understand the scope of these changes, we recorded from pairs of mouse hippocampal neurons cultured in a two-neuron microcircuit configuration that allowed us to characterize all four major connection types within the hippocampus. Loss of PTEN caused changes in excitatory and inhibitory connectivity, and these changes were postsynaptic, presynaptic, and transynaptic, suggesting that disruption of PTEN has the potential to affect most connection types in the hippocampal circuit. Given the complexity of the changes at the synaptic level, we measured changes in network behavior after deleting Pten from neurons in an organotypic hippocampal slice network. Slices containing Pten-deleted neurons showed increased recruitment of neurons into network bursts. Importantly, these changes were not confined to Pten-deleted neurons, but involved the entire network, suggesting that the extensive changes in synaptic connectivity rewire the entire network in such a way that promotes a widespread increase in functional connectivity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Homozygous deletion of the Pten gene in neuronal subpopulations in the mouse serves as a valuable model of epilepsy caused by mTOR hyperactivation. To better understand how gene deletions lead to altered neuronal activity, we investigated the synaptic and network effects that occur 1 week after Pten deletion. PTEN loss increased the connectivity of all four types of hippocampal synaptic connections, including two forms of increased inhibition of inhibition, and increased network functional connectivity. These data suggest that single gene mutations that cause neurological diseases such as epilepsy may affect a surprising range of connection types. Moreover, given the robustness of homeostatic plasticity, these diverse effects on connection types may be necessary to cause network phenotypes such as increased synchrony.
Keywords: epilepsy; mTOR; neural synchrony; synaptic transmission.
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