Extracellular GABA waves regulate coincidence detection in excitatory circuits

J Physiol. 2020 Sep;598(18):4047-4062. doi: 10.1113/JP279744. Epub 2020 Aug 4.


Key points: Rapid changes in neuronal network activity trigger widespread waves of extracellular GABA in hippocampal neuropil. Elevations of extracellular GABA narrow the coincidence detection window for excitatory inputs to CA1 pyramidal cells. GABA transporters control the effect of extracellular GABA on coincidence detection. Small changes in the kinetics of dendritic excitatory currents amplify when reaching the soma.

Abstract: Coincidence detection of excitatory inputs by principal neurons underpins the rules of signal integration and Hebbian plasticity in the brain. In the hippocampal circuitry, detection fidelity is thought to depend on the GABAergic synaptic input through a feedforward inhibitory circuit also involving the hyperpolarisation-activated Ih current. However, afferent connections often bypass feedforward circuitry, suggesting that a different GABAergic mechanism might control coincidence detection in such cases. To test whether fluctuations in the extracellular GABA concentration [GABA] could play a regulatory role here, we use a GABA 'sniffer' patch in acute hippocampal slices of the rat and document strong dependence of [GABA] on network activity. We find that blocking GABAergic signalling strongly widens the coincidence detection window of direct excitatory inputs to pyramidal cells whereas increasing [GABA] through GABA uptake blockade shortens it. The underlying mechanism involves membrane-shunting tonic GABAA receptor current; it does not have to rely on Ih but depends strongly on the neuronal GABA transporter GAT-1. We use dendrite-soma dual patch-clamp recordings to show that the strong effect of membrane shunting on coincidence detection relies on nonlinear amplification of changes in the decay of dendritic synaptic currents when they reach the soma. Our results suggest that, by dynamically regulating extracellular GABA, brain network activity can optimise signal integration rules in local excitatory circuits.

Keywords: Hebbian learning; extracellular GABA; input coincidence detection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Cells* / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A* / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid