Short-term synaptic plasticity, in particular short-term depression and facilitation, strongly influences neuronal activity in cerebral cortical circuits. We investigated short-term plasticity at excitatory synapses onto layer V pyramidal cells in the rat medial prefrontal cortex, a region whose synaptic dynamic properties have not been systematically examined. Using intracellular and extracellular recordings of synaptic responses evoked by stimulation in layers II/III in vitro, we found that short-term depression and short-term facilitation are similar to those described previously in other regions of the cortex. In addition, synapses in the prefrontal cortex prominently express augmentation, a longer lasting form of short-term synaptic enhancement. This consists of a 40-60% enhancement of synaptic transmission which lasts seconds to minutes and which can be induced by stimulus trains of moderate duration and frequency. Synapses onto layer III neurons in the primary visual cortex express substantially less augmentation, indicating that this is a synapse-specific property. Intracellular recordings from connected pairs of layer V pyramidal cells in the prefrontal cortex suggest that augmentation is a property of individual synapses that does not require activation of multiple synaptic inputs or neuromodulatory fibers. We propose that synaptic augmentation could function to enhance the ability of a neuronal circuit to sustain persistent activity after a transient stimulus. This idea is explored using, a computer simulation of a simplified recurrent cortical network.
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