Conditioning by subthreshold synaptic input changes the intrinsic firing pattern of CA3 hippocampal neurons

J Neurophysiol. 2020 Jan 1;123(1):90-106. doi: 10.1152/jn.00506.2019. Epub 2019 Nov 13.


Unlike synaptic strength, intrinsic excitability is assumed to be a stable property of neurons. For example, learning of somatic conductances is generally not incorporated into computational models, and the discharge pattern of neurons in response to test stimuli is frequently used as a basis for phenotypic classification. However, it is increasingly evident that signal processing properties of neurons are more generally plastic on the timescale of minutes. Here we demonstrate that the intrinsic firing patterns of CA3 neurons of the rat hippocampus in vitro undergo rapid long-term plasticity in response to a few minutes of only subthreshold synaptic conditioning. This plasticity on the spike timing could also be induced by intrasomatic injection of subthreshold depolarizing pulses and was blocked by kinase inhibitors, indicating that discharge dynamics are modulated locally. Cluster analysis of firing patterns before and after conditioning revealed systematic transitions toward adapting and intrinsic burst behaviors, irrespective of the patterns initially exhibited by the cells. We used a conductance-based model to decide appropriate pharmacological blockade and found that the observed transitions are likely due to recruitment of low-voltage calcium and Kv7 potassium conductances. We conclude that CA3 neurons adapt their conductance profile to the subthreshold activity of their input, so that their intrinsic firing pattern is not a static signature, but rather a reflection of their history of subthreshold activity. In this way, recurrent output from CA3 neurons may collectively shape the temporal dynamics of their embedding circuits.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Although firing patterns are widely conserved across the animal phyla, it is still a mystery why nerve cells present such diversity of discharge dynamics upon somatic step currents. Adding a new timing dimension to the intrinsic plasticity literature, here we show that CA3 neurons rapidly adapt through the space of known firing patterns in response to the subthreshold signals that they receive from their embedding circuit, potentially adjusting their network processing to the temporal statistics of their circuit.

Keywords: CA3 hippocampus; firing patterns; intrinsic plasticity; spike-timing modulation; subthreshold plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • CA3 Region, Hippocampal / physiology*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats