Developmental Changes in Short-Term Plasticity at the Rat Calyx of Held Synapse

Abstract The calyx of Held synapse of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body functions as a relay synapse in the auditory brainstem. In vivo recordings have shown that this synapse displays low release probability and that the average size of synaptic potentials does not depend on recent history. We used a ventral approach to make in vivo extracellular recordings from the calyx of Held synapse in rats aged postnatal day 4 (P4) to P29 to study the developmental changes that allow this synapse to function as a relay. Between P4 and P8, we observed evidence for the presence of large short-term depression, which was counteracted by short-term facilitation at short intervals. Major changes occurred in the last few days before the onset of hearing for air-borne sounds, which happened at P13. The bursting pattern changed into a primary-like pattern, the amount of depression and facilitation decreased strongly, and the decay of facilitation became much faster. Whereas short-term plasticity was the most important cause of variability in the size of the synaptic potentials in immature animals, its role became minor around hearing onset and afterward. Similar developmental changes were observed during stimulation experiments both in brain slices and in vivo following cochlear ablation. Our data suggest that the strong reduction in release probability and the speedup of the decay of synaptic facilitation that happen just before hearing onset are important events in the transformation of the calyx of Held synapse into an auditory relay synapse.

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