Sensory-Evoked Spiking Behavior Emerges via an Experience-Dependent Plasticity Mechanism

van Rheede JJ, Richards BA, Akerman CJ

Neuron 2015 Sep;87(5):1050-62

PMID: 26335647


The ability to generate action potentials (spikes) in response to synaptic input determines whether a neuron participates in information processing. How a developing neuron becomes an active participant in a circuit or whether this process is activity dependent is not known, especially as spike-dependent plasticity mechanisms would not be available to non-spiking neurons. Here we use the optic tectum of awake Xenopus laevis tadpoles to determine how a neuron becomes able to generate sensory-driven spikes in vivo. At the onset of vision, many tectal neurons do not exhibit visual spiking behavior, despite being intrinsically excitable and receiving visuotopically organized synaptic inputs. However, a brief period of visual stimulation can drive these neurons to start generating stimulus-driven spikes. This conversion relies upon a selective increase in glutamatergic input and requires depolarizing GABAergic transmission and NMDA receptor activation. This permissive form of experience-dependent plasticity enables a neuron to start contributing to circuit function.

Clonal Relationships Impact Neuronal Tuning within a Phylogenetically Ancient Vertebrate Brain Structure

Muldal AM, Lillicrap TP, Richards BA, Akerman CJ

Curr. Biol. 2014 Aug;24(16):1929-33

PMID: 25127219


Understanding how neurons acquire specific response properties is a major goal in neuroscience. Recent studies in mouse neocortex have shown that “sister neurons” derived from the same cortical progenitor cell have a greater probability of forming synaptic connections with one another [1, 2] and are biased to respond to similar sensory stimuli [3, 4]. However, it is unknown whether such lineage-based rules contribute to functional circuit organization across different species and brain regions [5]. To address this question, we examined the influence of lineage on the response properties of neurons within the optic tectum, a visual brain area found in all vertebrates [6]. Tectal neurons possess well-defined spatial receptive fields (RFs) whose center positions are retinotopically organized [7]. If lineage relationships do not influence the functional properties of tectal neurons, one prediction is that the RF positions of sister neurons should be no more (or less) similar to one another than those of neighboring control neurons. To test this prediction, we developed a protocol to unambiguously identify the daughter neurons derived from single tectal progenitor cells in Xenopus laevis tadpoles. We combined this approach with in vivo two-photon calcium imaging in order to characterize the RF properties of tectal neurons. Our data reveal that the RF centers of sister neurons are significantly more similar than would be expected by chance. Ontogenetic relationships therefore influence the fine-scale topography of the retinotectal map, indicating that lineage relationships may represent a general and evolutionarily conserved principle that contributes to the organization of neural circuits.

Neurons Are Recruited to a Memory Trace Based on Relative Neuronal Excitability Immediately before Training

Yiu AP, Mercaldo V, Yan C, Richards B, Rashid AJ, Hsiang HL, Pressey J, Mahadevan V, Tran MM, Kushner SA, Woodin MA, Frankland PW, Josselyn SA

Neuron 2014 Aug;83(3):722-35

PMID: 25102562


UNLABELLED: Memories are thought to be sparsely encoded in neuronal networks, but little is known about why a given neuron is recruited or allocated to a particular memory trace. Previous research shows that in the lateral amygdala (LA), neurons with increased CREB are selectively recruited to a fear memory trace. CREB is a ubiquitous transcription factor implicated in many cellular processes. Which process mediates neuronal memory allocation? One hypothesis is that CREB increases neuronal excitability to bias neuronal recruitment, although this has not been shown experimentally. Here we use several methods to increase neuronal excitability and show this both biases recruitment into the memory trace and enhances memory formation. Moreover, artificial activation of these neurons alone is a sufficient retrieval cue for fear memory expression, showing that these neurons are critical components of the memory trace. These results indicate that neuronal memory allocation is based on relative neuronal excitability immediately before training.