Measuring action potential-evoked transmission at individual synaptic contacts

David W. Nauen, Guo Qiang Bi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the neuronal culture experimental system, the total synaptic connection between two neurons can consist of large numbers of synaptic sites, each behaving probabilistically. Studies of synaptic function with paired recordings typically consider the summed response across all of these sites and from this infer the average response. Understanding of synaptic transmission and plasticity could be improved by examination of activity at as few synaptic sites as possible. To this end, we develop a system for recording responses from individual contacts. It relies on a precisely regulated pneumatic/hydrostatic pressure system to create a microenvironment within which individual synapses are active, and an acoustic signature method to monitor the stability of this microenvironment noninvasively. With this method we are able to record action potential-evoked postsynaptic currents consistent with individual quanta. The approach does not distort synaptic current waveforms and permits stable recording for several hours. The method is applied to address mechanisms of short-term plasticity, the variability of latency at individual synaptic sites and, in a preliminary experiment, the independence of nearby synapses on the same axon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036014
JournalJournal of neural engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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