Transient high-frequency activity of substantia nigra dopamine neurons is critical for striatal synaptic plasticity and associative learning. However, the mechanisms underlying this mode of activity are poorly understood because, in contrast to other rapidly firing neurons, high-frequency activity is not evoked by somatic current injection. Previous studies have suggested that activation of dendritic N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors and/or G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-mediated reduction of action potential afterhyperpolarization and/or activation of cation channels underlie high-frequency activity. To address their relative contribution, transient high-frequency activity was evoked using local electrical stimulation (1 s, 10-100 Hz) in brain slices prepared from p15-p25 rats in the presence of GABA and D2 dopamine receptor antagonists. The frequency, pattern, and morphology of action potentials evoked under these conditions were similar to those observed in vivo. Evoked activity and reductions in action potential afterhyperpolarization were diminished greatly by application of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) or NMDA receptor selective antagonists and abolished completely by co-application of AMPA and NMDA antagonists. In contrast, application of glutamatergic and cholinergic GPCR antagonists moderately enhanced evoked activity. Dendritic pressure-pulse application of glutamate evoked high-frequency activity that was similarly sensitive to antagonism of AMPA or NMDA receptors. Taken together, these data suggest that dendritic AMPA and NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic conductances are sufficient to generate transient high-frequency activity in substantia nigra dopamine neurons by rapidly but transiently overwhelming the conductances underlying action potential afterhyperpolarization and/or engaging postsynaptic voltage-dependent ion channels in a manner that overcomes the limiting effects of afterhyperpolarization.
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