In developing cerebellar interneurons, NMDA increases spontaneous GABA release by activating presynaptic NMDA receptors. We investigated the role of these receptors on differentiating basket/stellate cells in cerebellar cultures grown under conditions allowing functional synaptic transmission. Presynaptic GABAergic boutons were visualized either by GAD65 immunostaining or by using cells derived from GAD65- enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) transgenic mice, in which cerebellar basket/stellate cells express eGFP. After the first week in culture, whole-cell recordings from granule cells reveal that acute application of NMDA increases miniature IPSC (mIPSC) frequency. Interestingly, after 2 weeks, the mIPSC frequency increases compared with the first week but is not modulated by NMDA. Furthermore, in cultures chronically treated with NMDA for 1 week, the size of the GABAergic boutons increases. This growth is paralleled by increased mIPSC frequency and the loss of NMDA sensitivity. Direct patch-clamp recording from these presynaptic terminals reveals single NMDA-activated channels, showing multiple conductance levels, and electronic propagation from the somatodendritic compartment. Our results demonstrate that NMDA receptors alter GABAergic synapses in developing cerebellar cultures by increasing the size of the terminal and spontaneous GABA release. These findings parallel changes in inhibitory synaptic efficacy seen in vivo in developing GABAergic interneurons of the molecular layer of the cerebellum.
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