Subcellular patch-clamp techniques for single-bouton stimulation and simultaneous pre- and postsynaptic recording at cortical synapses

Nat Protoc. 2021 Jun;16(6):2947-2967. doi: 10.1038/s41596-021-00526-0. Epub 2021 May 14.


Rigorous investigation of synaptic transmission requires analysis of unitary synaptic events by simultaneous recording from presynaptic terminals and postsynaptic target neurons. However, this has been achieved at only a limited number of model synapses, including the squid giant synapse and the mammalian calyx of Held. Cortical presynaptic terminals have been largely inaccessible to direct presynaptic recording, due to their small size. Here, we describe a protocol for improved subcellular patch-clamp recording in rat and mouse brain slices, with the synapse in a largely intact environment. Slice preparation takes ~2 h, recording ~3 h and post hoc morphological analysis 2 d. Single presynaptic hippocampal mossy fiber terminals are stimulated minimally invasively in the bouton-attached configuration, in which the cytoplasmic content remains unperturbed, or in the whole-bouton configuration, in which the cytoplasmic composition can be precisely controlled. Paired pre-postsynaptic recordings can be integrated with biocytin labeling and morphological analysis, allowing correlative investigation of synapse structure and function. Paired recordings can be obtained from mossy fiber terminals in slices from both rats and mice, implying applicability to genetically modified synapses. Paired recordings can also be performed together with axon tract stimulation or optogenetic activation, allowing comparison of unitary and compound synaptic events in the same target cell. Finally, paired recordings can be combined with spontaneous event analysis, permitting collection of miniature events generated at a single identified synapse. In conclusion, the subcellular patch-clamp techniques detailed here should facilitate analysis of biophysics, plasticity and circuit function of cortical synapses in the mammalian central nervous system.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Rats