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Coneva, Cvetalina (2015): Activity-driven formation and stabilization of functional spine synapses. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Biology



Physical changes in neuronal connections, dictated by the neuronal network activity, are believed to be essential for learning and memory. Long-term potentiation (LTP) of synaptic transmission has emerged as a model to study activity-driven plasticity. The majority of excitatory contacts between neurons, called synapses, are found on spines, small dendritic protrusions. LTP is known to trigger the formation and stabilization of new dendritic spines in vitro. Similarly, experience-dependent plasticity in vivo is associated with changes in the number and stability of spines. However, to date, the contribution of excitatory synaptogenesis to the enhanced synaptic transmission after LTP remains elusive. Do new spines form functional synapses with the inputs stimulated during LTP induction and thereby follow Hebbian co-activation rules, or do they connect with random partners? Furthermore, at which time-point are de novo spines functionally integrated into the network? I developed an optical approach to stably and exclusively stimulate the axons of a defined channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)-transduced subset of CA3 cell in mature hippocampal slice culture over extended periods of time (up to 24h). I continuously monitored synaptic activation and synaptic structure of CA1 cells dendrites using two-photon imaging. To control the dendritic location where LTP and associated spinogenesis were allowed to take place, I globally blocked Na+-dependent action potential firing and directly evoke neurotransmitter release by local light-evoked depolarization of ChR2-expressing presynaptic boutons (in TTX, 4-AP). I induced optical LTP specifically at this location by combining optogenetic activation with chemical pairing (in low [Mg2+]o, high [Ca2+]o, forskolin, and rolipram). Taking advantage of the NMDA-receptor mediated calcium influx during synaptic activation I assessed the formation of functional synapses using the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP6s. I find that optical LTP led to the generation of new spines, decreased the stability of preexisting spines and increased the stability of new spines. Under optical LTP conditions, a fraction of new spines responded to optical presynaptic stimulation within hours after formation. However, the occurrence of the first synaptic calcium response in de novo spines varied considerably, ranging from 8.5 min to 25 h. Most new spines became responsive within 4 h (1.2 ± 0.9 h, mean ± S.D., n = 16 out of 20), whereas the remainder showed their first response only on the second experimental day (18.2 ± 3.7 h). Importantly, new spines generated under optical LTP were more likely to build functional synapses with light-activated, ChR2-expressing axons than spontaneously formed spines (new responsive spines under optical LTP: 64 ± 4 %; control 1: 0%; control 2: 13 ± 4 %; control 3: 11 ± 4 %). Furthermore, new spines that were responsive to optical presynaptic stimulation were less prone to be eliminated after overnight incubation than new spines that failed to respond (% overnight spine survival; 81 ± 3 % new responsive spines; 58 ± 4 % of new unresponsive spines). In summary, the results from my thesis demonstrate that synapses can form rapidly in an input-specific manner.