A change in the probability of neurotransmitter release (Pr) is an important mechanism underlying synaptic plasticity. Although Pr is often assumed to be the same for all terminals at a single synapse, this assumption is difficult to reconcile with the nonuniform size and structure of synaptic terminals in the central nervous system. Release probability was measured at excitatory synapses on cultured hippocampal neurons by analysis of the progressive block of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-mediated synaptic currents by the irreversible open channel blocker MK-801. Release probability was nonuniform (range of 0.09 to 0.54) for terminals arising from a single axon, the majority of which had a low Pr. However, terminals with high Pr are more likely to be affected by the activity-dependent modulation that occurs in long-term potentiation.
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