Guided by Experience

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Science  07 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5612, pp. 1481m-1483m
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5612.1481m

Synapses, the contacts between neurons, work more efficiently after being stimulated simultaneously by two inputs, a phenomenon thought to underlie certain types of learning. In tissue culture slices, this enhanced efficiency results from increased trafficking of one type of glutamate receptor, the AMPA receptors (AMPA-Rs), into synapses. To test if this same mechanism operates in animals receiving environmental inputs, Takahashi et al. (p. 1585) injected recombinant AMPA-Rs to neurons in the rat barrel cortex with a Sindbus virus vector. They compared normal synapses in the barrel cortex at postnatal day 15, just after a period of rapid experience-dependent growth with synapses corresponding to an area on the animal's face where the whiskers had been. The synapses subject to sensory experience through intact whiskers showed increased trafficking of AMPA-Rs, while synapses deprived of whisker input did not.

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