The Functional Consequences of Changes in the Strength and Duration of Synaptic Inputs to Oscillatory Neurons
We studied the effect of synaptic inputs of different amplitude and duration on neural oscillators by simulating synaptic conductance pulses in a bursting conductance-based pacemaker model and by injecting artificial synaptic conductance pulses into pyloric pacemaker neurons of the lobster stomatogastric ganglion using the dynamic clamp. In the model and the biological neuron, the change in burst period caused by inhibitory and excitatory inputs of increasing strength saturated, such that synaptic inputs above a certain strength all had the same effect on the firing pattern of the oscillatory neuron. In contrast, increasing the duration of the synaptic conductance pulses always led to changes in the burst period, indicating that neural oscillators are sensitive to changes in the duration of synaptic input but are not sensitive to changes in the strength of synaptic inputs above a certain conductance. This saturation of the response to progressively stronger synaptic inputs occurs not only in bursting neurons but also in tonically spiking neurons. We identified inward currents at hyperpolarized potentials as the cause of the saturation in the model neuron. Our findings imply that activity-dependent or modulator-induced changes in synaptic strength are not necessarily accompanied by changes in the functional impact of a synapse on the timing of postsynaptic spikes or bursts.