Neocortical circuits are most sensitive to sensory experience during a critical period of early development. Previous studies implicate that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and GABAergic inhibition may control the timing of the critical period. By using an in vitro maturation model, we found that neurons at DIV (day in vitro) 7, around a period when functional synapses start to form and GABAergic inhibition emerges, displayed the most dynamic activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) and CREB by exogenous BDNF. The BDNF-stimulated transcriptional up-regulation of CREB target genes was also the highest in DIV 7 neurons. The basal level of ERK1/2 and CREB activity, as well as the expression of CREB target genes, increased along with maturation, and neurons at DIV 13 and 22 displayed less dynamic responses to BDNF. Furthermore, we found that the developmentally regulated GABAergic inhibition correlated with the decline of BDNF-mediated signaling during maturation. BDNF stimulation along with suppression of GABAergic inhibition enhanced the activation of ERK1/2-CREB signaling and gene transcription in mature neurons. Conversely, BDNF stimulation along with enhancement of GABAergic inhibition reduced the overall induction of intracellular signaling in younger neurons. We propose that the less dynamic molecular changes may play a certain role in the loss of plasticity during maturation.
J. Neurochem. (2011) 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2011.07528.x