Training rats in a complex olfactory discrimination task results in acquisition of “rule learning” (learning how to learn), a term describing the capability to perform the task superbly. Such rule learning results in strengthening of both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic connections between neurons in the piriform cortex. Moreover, intrinsic excitability is also enhanced throughout the pyramidal neuron population. Surprisingly, the cortical network retains its stability under these long-term modifications. In particular, the susceptibility for long-term potentiation (LTP) induction, while decreased for a short time window, returns to almost its pretraining value, although significant strengthening of AMPA receptor-mediated glutamatergic transmission remains. Such network balance is essential for maintaining the single-cell modifications that underlie long-term memory while preventing hyperexcitability that would result in runaway synaptic activity. However, the mechanisms underlying the long-term maintenance of such balance have yet to be described. In this study, we explored the role of astrocyte-mediated gliotransmission in long-term maintenance of learning-induced modifications in susceptibility for LTP induction and control of the strength of synaptic inhibition. We show that blocking connexin 43 hemichannels, which form gap junctions between astrocytes, decreases significantly the ability to induce LTP by stimulating the excitatory connections between piriform cortex pyramidal neurons after learning only. In parallel, spontaneous miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current amplitude is reduced in neurons from trained rats only, to the level of prelearning. Thus gliotransmission has a key role in maintaining learning-induced cortical stability by a wide-ranged control on synaptic transmission and plasticity. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We explore the role of astrocyte-mediated gliotransmission in maintenance of olfactory discrimination learning-induced modifications. We show that blocking gap junctions between astrocytes decreases significantly the ability to induce long-term potentiation in the piriform cortex after learning only. In parallel, synaptic inhibition is reduced in neurons from trained rats only, to the level of prelearning. Thus gliotransmission has a key role in maintaining learning-induced cortical stability by a wide-ranged control on synaptic transmission and plasticity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was funded by Israel Science Foundation BIKORA Program Grant 1235/10 (to E. Barkai).
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ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuroscience (all)