The calyx of Held synapse is a giant axosomatic synapse that has a fast relay function within the sound localization circuit of the brainstem. In the adult, each principal neuron of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) is contacted by a single calyx terminal. In rodents, the calyx of Held synapse forms around the third postnatal day (P3). Here, we studied the developmental changes in the intrinsic excitability of the principal neurons during the first postnatal week by making whole-cell recordings from brainstem slices. In slices from P0-1 rats, about 20% of the principal neurons were spontaneously active, whereas after P3, no spontaneously active cells were observed. Already at P0, principal neurons received both glutamatergic and GABAergic/glycinergic inputs. The occurrence of spontaneous action potentials depended upon the presence of spontaneous glutamatergic inputs; summation of only a few quanta was enough to reach action potential threshold. The main cause for this high excitability was a high resting membrane resistance, which decreased at least four-fold during the first postnatal week. A relatively slow decay of synaptic currents and a relatively depolarized membrane potential may have contributed as well. We conclude that the decrease in the excitability of principal neurons in the MNTB matches the increase of the strength of the synaptic inputs resulting from the formation and maturation of the calyx of Held synapse during the first postnatal week. This decrease in excitability will make it progressively more difficult for non-calyceal inputs to trigger action potentials.

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Developmental Neurobiology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Rusu, S.I, & Borst, J.G.G. (2011). Developmental changes in intrinsic excitability of principal neurons in the rat medial nucleus of the trapezoid body. Developmental Neurobiology, 71(4), 284–295. doi:10.1002/dneu.20856