Pharmacological blockade of GABAA receptors on CA3 pyramidal cells in hippocampal slices from immature rats (i.e. second to third postnatal weeks), compared to CA3 slices from adult rats, is known to cause prolonged burst discharges (i.e. several seconds vs. tens of milliseconds). Synaptic and intrinsic mechanisms responsible for this developmental difference in burst duration were analysed in isolated minislices of the CA3 area. The frequency and amplitude of spontaneous EPSCs in CA3 pyramidal cells were greater in slices from immature than mature rats. In the presence of GABAA- and GABAB-receptor antagonists, the burst discharges of immature CA3 pyramidal cells were still prolonged in thinner slices (350 μm, vs. 450 μm in adults, to compensate for developmental differences in neuronal density) and in NMDA- and mGlu1-receptor antagonists. The AMPA receptor antagonist DNQX blocked the remaining burst discharges, suggesting that differences in recurrent excitatory circuits contributed to the prolonged bursts of immature CA3 pyramidal cells. In slices from immature versus adult rats, the CA3 recurrent synaptic responses showed potentiation to repetitive stimulation, suggestive of a lower transmitter release probability. The intrinsic firing ability was greater in CA3 pyramidal neurons from immature than adult rats, and the medium-duration afterhyperpolarization was smaller. These data suggest that, compared to adults, the CA3 area of immature rats contains a more robust recurrent excitatory synaptic network, greater intrinsic membrane excitability, and an increased capacity for sustained transmitter release, which together may account for the more prolonged network bursts in immature versus adult CA3.
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