1. We have developed a comprehensive mathematical model of an afferent synaptic connection to the soma of a medial nucleus tractus solitarius (mNTS) neuron. Model development is based on numerical fits to quantitative data recorded in our laboratory. This work is part of a continuing collaborative effort aimed at identifying and characterizing the mechanisms responsible for the nonlinear integrative properties of this first synapse in the baroreceptor reflex. 2. The complete model consists of three major parts: 1) a Hodgkin-Huxley (HH)-type membrane model of the prejunctional sensory terminal bouton; 2) a multistage model describing vesicular storage, adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP)- and Ca2+-dependent mobilization, release and recycling; and 3) a HH-type membrane model of the postjunctional mNTS cell that includes descriptions for a desensitizing non- N-methyl-p-aspartate (NMDA) ionic current that is responsible for the fast excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) observed in raNTS cells. The membrane models for both the terminal bouton and the mNTS neuron are coupled to separate lumped fluid compartment models describing intracellular Ca2+ ion concentration dynamics. 3. Our modeling strategy is twofold. The first is to validate model performance by reproducing a wide variety of experimental data both from our laboratory and from the literature. The second is to explore the functional aspects of the model in order to gain a greater appreciation for the balance between presynaptic mechanisms (e.g., terminal membrane properties and vesicular dynamics) and postsynaptic mechanisms (e.g., non-NMDA receptor kinetics and neuronal dynamics) that underlie the afferent synaptic drive of raNTS neurons. 4. The model accurately reproduces EPSP dynamics recorded with the use of a wide range of stimulus protocols. The model can also mirror the unique pattern of graded frequency- and use dependent reduction in peak EPSP magnitude observed experimentally through 60 s of constant, suprathreshold synaptic activation. We demonstrate how vesicular mobilization, recycling, and receptor kinetics can function synergistically in establishing synaptic transfer. Furthermore, we show that by allowing the aggregate rate of vesicle mobilization to respond in a use- dependent manner, it is possible to compensate for the attenuating affects of desensitization at elevated rates of stimulation. 5. Out simulations indicate that the low-frequency characteristics of this synapse are dominated by vesicular dynamics, whereas the high-frequency properties arise from a combination of Ca2+-dependent vesicular mobilization and the kinetics of the non-NMDA receptor. Desensitization can influence the peak magnitude and decay time of the EPSP, thereby affecting synaptic throughput. However, we demonstrate that, as the time course of neurotransmitter in the synaptic cleft decreases, the influence of desensitization should be somewhat diminished. As a result, the effective bandwidth of the synapse increases and becomes limited by the gating characteristics of the non-NMDA channel. 6. The model also includes a neuromodulatory aspect in that the frequency response of the synapse can be modulated by an adenylate cyclase-mediated regulatory mechanism. Although our simulations indicate the behavior of a limited number of possible neuromodulatory agents, the results demonstrate the pivotal role such agents could play in modifying synaptic transfer characteristics presynaptically. 7. Both continuous and burst-mode tract stimulation evoke patterns of action potentials in spontaneously active mNTS neurons that are mimicked very well by our model. Our simulations demonstrate that, as the rate of stimulation increases beyond ~20-30 Hz, the inherent low-pass frequency-response characteristics of the synapse limit the overall dynamic range of the mNTS neuron, causing the postsynaptic cell to 'entrain' at frequencies within its normal operating range. These results suggest that this first synapse in the baroreflex pathway is well suited for transmitting sustained low-frequency (i.e., ≤ 10 Hz) activity to mNTS neurons but cannot faithfully transmit high-frequency (i.e., ≥20 Hz) activity.
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