Publication Date



PLoS One. 2009; 4(11): e8062.


BACKGROUND: Synaptic plasticity underlies many aspect of learning memory and development. The properties of synaptic plasticity can change as a function of previous plasticity and previous activation of synapses, a phenomenon called metaplasticity. Synaptic plasticity not only changes the functional connectivity between neurons but in some cases produces a structural change in synaptic spines; a change thought to form a basis for this observed plasticity. Here we examine to what extent structural plasticity of spines can be a cause for metaplasticity. This study is motivated by the observation that structural changes in spines are likely to affect the calcium dynamics in spines. Since calcium dynamics determine the sign and magnitude of synaptic plasticity, it is likely that structural plasticity will alter the properties of synaptic plasticity.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In this study we address the question how spine geometry and alterations of N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors conductance may affect plasticity. Based on a simplified model of the spine in combination with a calcium-dependent plasticity rule, we demonstrated that after the induction phase of plasticity a shift of the long term potentiation (LTP) or long term depression (LTD) threshold takes place. This induces a refractory period for further LTP induction and promotes depotentiation as observed experimentally. That resembles the BCM metaplasticity rule but specific for the individual synapse. In the second phase, alteration of the NMDA response may bring the synapse to a state such that further synaptic weight alterations are feasible. We show that if the enhancement of the NMDA response is proportional to the area of the post synaptic density (PSD) the plasticity curves most likely return to the initial state.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Using simulations of calcium dynamics in synaptic spines, coupled with a biophysically motivated calcium-dependent plasticity rule, we find under what conditions structural plasticity can form the basis of synapse specific metaplasticity.


Animals, Calcium, Diffusion, Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials, Long-Term Potentiation, Models, Biological, Models, Neurological, Models, Theoretical, Neuronal Plasticity, Receptors, GABA, Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate, Software, Synapses, Synaptic Transmission