DevelopmentJournalNeural Excitability, Synapses, and Glia

Competition for synaptic building blocks shapes synaptic plasticity

The sketch of the model shows that neurotransmitter receptors are tracked through the dendrite and bind to “slots” inside of dendritic spines. The efficacy of a synapse is assumed to be proportional to the number of receptors attached to its slots.

Changes in the efficacies of synapses are thought to be the neurobiological basis of learning and memory. The efficacy of a synapse depends on its current number of neurotransmitter receptors. Recent experiments have shown that these receptors are highly dynamic, moving back and forth between synapses on time scales of seconds and minutes. This suggests spontaneous fluctuations in synaptic efficacies and a competition of nearby synapses for available receptors. Here we propose a mathematical model of this competition of synapses for neurotransmitter receptors from a local dendritic pool. Using minimal assumptions, the model produces a fast multiplicative scaling behavior of synapses. Furthermore, the model explains a transient form of heterosynaptic plasticity and predicts that its amount is inversely related to the size of the local receptor pool. Overall, our model reveals logistical tradeoffs during the induction of synaptic plasticity due to the rapid exchange of neurotransmitter receptors between synapses.

Triesch, J, Vo, A.D. Hafner A.-S. (2018). eLife 7:e37836