Research Article

Alterations in Synaptic Strength Preceding Axon Withdrawal

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Science  17 Jan 1997:
Vol. 275, Issue 5298, pp. 356-361
DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5298.356

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Permanent removal of axonal input to postsynaptic cells helps shape the pattern of neuronal connections in response to experience, but the process is poorly understood. Intracellular recording from newborn and adult mouse muscle fibers temporarily innervated by two axons showed an increasing disparity in the synaptic strengths of the two inputs before one was eliminated. The connection that survived gained strength by increasing the amount of neurotransmitter released (quantal content), whereas the input that was subsequently removed became progressively weaker, because of a reduction in quantal content and a reduction in quantal efficacy associated with reduced postsynaptic receptor density. Once the synaptic strengths of two inputs began to diverge, complete axonal withdrawal of the weaker input occurred within 1 to 2 days. These experiments provide a link between experience-driven changes in synaptic strength and long-term changes in connectivity in the mammalian nervous system.

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