Neurons are embedded in an extracellular matrix (ECM), which functions both as a scaffold and as a regulator of neuronal function. The ECM is in turn dynamically altered through the action of serine proteases, which break down its constituents. This pathway has been implicated in the regulation of synaptic plasticity and of neuronal intrinsic excitability. In this study, we determined the short-term effects of interfering with proteolytic processes in the ECM, with a newly developed serine protease inhibitor. We monitored the spontaneous electrophysiological activity of in vitro primary rat cortical cultures, using microelectrode arrays. While pharmacological inhibition at a low dosage had no significant effect, at elevated concentrations it altered significantly network synchronization and functional connectivity but left unaltered single-cell electrical properties. These results suggest that serine protease inhibition affects synaptic properties, likely through its actions on the ECM.
Keywords: Cortex; Electrophysiology; Extracellular matrix; Microelectrode arrays; Network activity; Neurobiology; Neurons; Patch-clamp; Serine proteases; Synaptic connectivity.