At most synapses in the brain, short-term plasticity dynamically modulates synaptic strength. Rapid frequency-dependent changes in synaptic strength have key roles in sensory adaptation, gain control and many other neural computations. However, some auditory, vestibular and cerebellar synapses maintain constant strength over a wide range of firing frequencies, and as a result efficiently encode firing rates. Despite its apparent simplicity, frequency-invariant transmission is difficult to achieve because of inherent synaptic nonlinearities. Here we study frequency-invariant transmission at synapses from Purkinje cells to deep cerebellar nuclei and at vestibular synapses in mice. Prolonged activation of these synapses leads to initial depression, which is followed by steady-state responses that are frequency invariant for their physiological activity range. We find that synaptotagmin 7 (Syt7), a calcium sensor for short-term facilitation, is present at both synapses. It was unclear why a sensor for facilitation would be present at these and other depressing synapses. We find that at Purkinje cell and vestibular synapses, Syt7 supports facilitation that is normally masked by depression, which can be revealed in wild-type mice but is absent in Syt7 knockout mice. In wild-type mice, facilitation increases with firing frequency and counteracts depression to produce frequency-invariant transmission. In Syt7-knockout mice, Purkinje cell and vestibular synapses exhibit conventional use-dependent depression, weakening to a greater extent as the firing frequency is increased. Presynaptic rescue of Syt7 expression restores both facilitation and frequency-invariant transmission. Our results identify a function for Syt7 at synapses that exhibit overall depression, and demonstrate that facilitation has an unexpected and important function in producing frequency-invariant transmission.
ASJC Scopus subject areas