Activity-dependent synaptic competition in vitro: heterosynaptic suppression of developing synapses

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Science  15 Nov 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5034, pp. 1019-1022
DOI: 10.1126/science.1658939


The development and stability of synaptic connections in the nervous system are influenced by the pattern of electrical activity and the competitive interaction between the adjacent nerve terminals. To investigate this influence, a culture system of nerve and muscle cells has been developed in which a single embryonic muscle cell is coinnervated by two spinal neurons. The effect of electrical activity on the synaptic efficacy was examined after repetitive electrical stimulation was applied to one or both neurons. Brief tetanic stimulation of one neuron resulted in immediate functional suppression of the synapse made by the unstimulated neuron innervating the same muscle cell. This heterosynaptic suppression was largely absent when the tetanic stimulation was applied concurrently to both neurons. This result demonstrates that activity-dependent synaptic competition can be studied in vitro at a cellular level.

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