Quantitative effects produced by modifications of neuronal activity on the size of GABAA receptor clusters in hippocampal slice cultures

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The number and strength of GABAergic synapses needs to be precisely adjusted for adequate control of excitatory activity. We investigated to what extent the size of GABAA receptor clusters at inhibitory synapses is under the regulation of neuronal activity. Slices from P7 rat hippocampus were cultured for 13 days in the presence of bicuculline or 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) to increase neuronal activity, or DNQX to decrease activity. The changes provoked by these treatments on clusters immunoreactive for the α1 and α2 subunits of the GABAA receptor or gephyrin were quantitatively evaluated. While an increase in activity augmented the density of these clusters, a decrease in activity provoked, in contrast, a decrease in their density. An inverse regulation was observed for the size of individual clusters. Bicuculline and 4-AP decreased whilst DNQX increased the mean size of the clusters. When the pharmacological treatments were applied for 2 days instead of 2 weeks, no effects on the size of the clusters were observed. The variations in the mean size of individual clusters were mainly due to changes in the number of small clusters. Finally, a regulation of the size of GABAA receptor clusters occurred during development in vivo, with a decrease of the mean size of the clusters between P7 and P21. This physiological change was also the result of an increase in the number of small clusters. These results indicate that neuronal activity regulates the mean size of GABAA receptor- and gephyrin-immunoreactive clusters by modifying specifically the number of synapses with small clusters of receptors.

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