Simultaneous pre- and postsynaptic recordings from identified glycinergic inhibitory interneurons and the Mauthner cell showed that 25% of the afferents produced no or extremely small postsynaptic responses. Morphological determination of the number of contacts made by these cells on the Mauthner cell revealed a connectivity similar to that of functional neurons which always produce clear inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, suggesting that most of the endings, made by weak interneurons are silent. Intraaxonal injection of 4-aminopyridine or Ca2+ greatly enhanced transmission at functional connections but did not modify those which were ineffective. However, after eighth nerve tetanic stimuli, transmission at the weak connections was unmasked or enhanced for prolonged periods and was twice as likely to be potentiated, with a 6-fold greater mean enhancement than the potent ones. This result provides additional support for long-term potentiation of inhibitory synapses. Furthermore, weakly functional junctions represent a "reserve" pool which can be critical for the expression of plasticity within a network, and, consequently, for setting the threshold of reflex activities such as the escape reaction mediated by the Mauthner cell
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