The mammalian auditory brain stem receives profuse adrenergic innervation, whose function is poorly understood. Here we investigate, during postnatal development, the effect of noradrenaline (NA) at the calyx of Held synapse in the rat medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). We observed that NA inhibits the large glutamatergic EPSC, evoked by afferent fiber stimulation, in a dose-dependent manner. The inhibition was maximal (approximately 48%) at the concentration of 2 μM. It was antagonized by yohimbine and mimicked by the α2-adrenergic specific agonist UK14304. Both AMPA and NMDA receptor-mediated EPSCs were inhibited in parallel by NA, suggesting a presynaptic effect. Presynaptic recordings showed that NA inhibits the action potential (AP) generated Ca current by about 20%; however, NA did not significantly affect the presynaptic AP waveform. We thus conclude that the calyx of Held presynaptic terminal expresses α2-adrenergic receptors that inhibit its Ca current and thus glutamate release. Noradrenaline was effective in all cells tested from postnatal days 6 to 7 (P6-P7), and thereafter the number of responsive cells diminished, although half of the P 14 cells tested still had EPSCs that were inhibited by NA. By contrast, activation by L-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid-sensitive metabotropic glutamate receptors strongly inhibited the EPSCs of all cells tested from P6 to P14. The effect of NA on postsynaptic action potential firing was dependent on the stimulus frequency. At 10 Hz, NA had no effect on firing probability; however, NA helped MNTB cells fire more action potentials during a 100-Hz train of stimuli, even though it did not increase the steady-state depressed EPSC, because it produced a smaller N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-activated depolarizing plateau. We therefore suggest that the reduction by NA of the first few EPSCs in a train leads to a smaller NMDA depolarizing plateau and thus to increased firing probability at 100 Hz in young synapses. Surprisingly, the inhibition of glutamate release by NA can thus actually increase the excitability of MNTB neurons during early postnatal development.
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