Biphasic modulation of parallel fibre synaptic transmission by co-activation of presynaptic GABAA and GABAB receptors in mice

Rebecca D. Howell, Jason R. Pugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Key points: Many excitatory synapses co-express presynaptic GABAA and GABAB receptors, despite their opposing actions on synaptic transmission. It is still unclear how co-activation of these receptors modulates synapse function. We measured presynaptic GABA receptor function at parallel fibre synapses onto stellate cells in the cerebellum using whole-cell patch-clamp recording and photolytic uncaging of RuBi-GABA. Activation of presynaptic GABA receptors results in a transient (∼100 ms) enhancement of synaptic transmission (mediated by GABAA receptors) followed by a long lasting (>500 ms) inhibition of transmission (mediated by GABAB receptors). When activated just prior to high-frequency trains of stimulation, presynaptic GABAA and GABAB receptors work together to reduce short-term facilitation/enhance depression, altering the filtering properties of synaptic transmission. Inhibition of synaptic transmission by GABAB receptors is more sensitive to GABA than enhancement by GABAA receptors, suggesting GABAB receptors may be activated by ambient GABA or release from greater distances. Abstract: GABAA and GABAB receptors are co-expressed at many presynaptic terminals in the central nervous system. Previous studies have shown that GABAA receptors typically enhance vesicle release while GABAB receptors inhibit release. However, it is not clear how the competing actions of these receptors modulate synaptic transmission when co-activated, as is likely in vivo. We investigated this question at parallel fibre synapses in the cerebellum, which co-express presynaptic GABAA and GABAB receptors. In acute slices from C57BL/6 mice, we find that co-activation of presynaptic GABA receptors by photolytic uncaging of RuBi-GABA has a biphasic effect on EPSC amplitudes recorded from stellate cells. Synchronous and asynchronous EPSCs evoked within ∼100 ms of GABA uncaging were increased, while EPSCs evoked ∼300–600 ms after GABA uncaging were reduced compared to interleaved control sweeps. We confirmed these effects are presynaptic by measuring the paired-pulse ratio, variance of EPSC amplitudes, and response probability. During trains of high-frequency stimulation GABAA and GABAB receptors work together (rather than oppose one another) to reduce short-term facilitation when GABA is uncaged just prior to the onset of stimulation. We also find that GABAB receptor-mediated inhibition can be elicited by lower GABA concentrations than GABAA receptor-mediated enhancement of EPSCs, suggesting GABAB receptors may be selectively activated by ambient GABA or release from more distance synapses. These data suggest that GABA, acting through both presynaptic GABAA and GABAB receptors, modulate the amplitude and short-term plasticity of excitatory synapses, a result not possible from activation of either receptor type alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3651-3666
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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