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A tale of two stories: astrocyte regulation of synaptic depression and facilitation

Maurizio de Pittà 1 Vladislav Volman 2, 3 Hugues Berry 4, 5, 6 Eshel Ben-Jacob 1, * 
* Corresponding author
4 COMBINING - COMputational BIology and data miNING
LIRIS - Laboratoire d'InfoRmatique en Image et Systèmes d'information, Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes
6 DM2L - Data Mining and Machine Learning
LIRIS - Laboratoire d'InfoRmatique en Image et Systèmes d'information
Abstract : Short-term presynaptic plasticity designates variations of the amplitude of synaptic information transfer whereby the amount of neurotransmitter released upon presynaptic stimulation changes over seconds as a function of the neuronal firing activity. While a consensus has emerged that the resulting decrease (depression) and/or increase (facilitation) of the synapse strength are crucial to neuronal computations, their modes of expression in vivo remain unclear. Recent experimental studies have reported that glial cells, particularly astrocytes in the hippocampus, are able to modulate short-term plasticity but the mechanism of such a modulation is poorly understood. Here, we investigate the characteristics of short-term plasticity modulation by astrocytes using a biophysically realistic computational model. Mean-field analysis of the model, supported by intensive numerical simulations, unravels that astrocytes may mediate counterintuitive effects. Depending on the expressed presynaptic signaling pathways, astrocytes may globally inhibit or potentiate the synapse: the amount of released neurotransmitter in the presence of the astrocyte is transiently smaller or larger than in its absence. But this global effect usually coexists with the opposite local effect on paired pulses: with release-decreasing astrocytes most paired pulses become facilitated, namely the amount of neurotransmitter released upon spike i+1 is larger than that at spike i, while paired-pulse depression becomes prominent under release-increasing astrocytes. Moreover, we show that the frequency of astrocytic intracellular Ca2+ oscillations controls the effects of the astrocyte on shortterm synaptic plasticity. Our model explains several experimental observations yet unsolved, and uncovers astrocytic gliotransmission as a possible transient switch between short-term paired-pulse depression and facilitation. This possibility has deep implications on the processing of neuronal spikes and resulting information transfer at synapses.
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Submitted on : Saturday, December 3, 2011 - 12:20:14 PM
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Maurizio de Pittà, Vladislav Volman, Hugues Berry, Eshel Ben-Jacob. A tale of two stories: astrocyte regulation of synaptic depression and facilitation. PLoS Computational Biology, 2011, 7 (12), pp.e1002293. ⟨10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002293⟩. ⟨inria-00633588v2⟩



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