Synaptic transmission via chemical synapses is dynamic, i.e., the strength of postsynaptic responses may change considerably in response to repeated synaptic activation. Synaptic strength is increased during facilitation, augmentation and potentiation, whereas a decrease in synaptic strength is characteristic for depression and attenuation. This review attempts to discuss the literature on short-term and long-term synaptic plasticity in the auditory brainstem of mammals and birds. One hallmark of the auditory system, particularly the inner ear and lower brainstem stations, is information transfer through neurons that fire action potentials at very high frequency, thereby activating synapses >500 times per second. Some auditory synapses display morphological specializations of the presynaptic terminals, e.g., calyceal extensions, whereas other auditory synapses do not. The review focuses on short-term depression and short-term facilitation, i.e., plastic changes with durations in the millisecond range. Other types of short-term synaptic plasticity, e.g., posttetanic potentiation and depolarization-induced suppression of excitation, will be discussed much more briefly. The same holds true for subtypes of long-term plasticity, like prolonged depolarizations and spike-time-dependent plasticity. We also address forms of plasticity in the auditory brainstem that do not comprise synaptic plasticity in a strict sense, namely short-term suppression, paired tone facilitation, short-term adaptation, synaptic adaptation and neural adaptation. Finally, we perform a meta-analysis of 61 studies in which short-term depression (STD) in the auditory system is opposed to short-term depression at non-auditory synapses in order to compare high-frequency neurons with those that fire action potentials at a lower rate. This meta-analysis reveals considerably less STD in most auditory synapses than in non-auditory ones, enabling reliable, failure-free synaptic transmission even at frequencies >100 Hz. Surprisingly, the calyx of Held, arguably the best-investigated synapse in the central nervous system, depresses most robustly. It will be exciting to reveal the molecular mechanisms that set high-fidelity synapses apart from other synapses that function much less reliably.
Pubmed ID: 25896885 RIS Download
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