Unique Features of Network Bursts Emerge From the Complex Interplay of Excitatory and Inhibitory Receptors in Rat Neocortical Networks

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Spontaneous network activity plays a fundamental role in the formation of functional networks during early development. The landmark of this activity is the recurrent emergence of intensive time-limited network bursts (NBs) rapidly spreading across the entire dissociated culture in vitro. The main excitatory mediators of NBs are glutamatergic alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs) and N-Methyl-D-aspartic-acid receptors (NMDARs) that express fast and slow ion channel kinetics, respectively. The fast inhibition of the activity is mediated through gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors (GABAARs). Although the AMPAR, NMDAR and GABAAR kinetics have been biophysically characterized in detail at the monosynaptic level in a variety of brain areas, the unique features of NBs emerging from the kinetics and the complex interplay of these receptors are not well understood. The goal of this study is to analyze the contribution of fast GABAARs on AMPAR- and NMDAR- mediated spontaneous NB activity in dissociated neonatal rat cortical cultures at 3 weeks in vitro. The networks were probed by both acute and gradual application of each excitatory receptor antagonist and combinations of acute excitatory and inhibitory receptor antagonists. At the same time, the extracellular network-wide activity was recorded with microelectrode arrays (MEAs). We analyzed the characteristic NB measures extracted from NB rate profiles and the distributions of interspike intervals, interburst intervals, and electrode recruitment time as well as the similarity of spatio-temporal patterns of network activity under different receptor antagonists. We show that NBs were rapidly initiated and recruited as well as diversely propagated by AMPARs and temporally and spatially maintained by NMDARs. GABAARs reduced the spiking frequency in AMPAR-mediated networks and dampened the termination of NBs in NMDAR-mediated networks as well as slowed down the recruitment of activity in all networks. Finally, we show characteristic super bursts composed of slow NBs with highly repetitive spatio-temporal patterns in gradually AMPAR blocked networks. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to unravel in detail how the three main mediators of synaptic transmission uniquely shape the NB characteristics, such as the initiation, maintenance, recruitment and termination of NBs in cortical cell cultures in vitro.

Original languageEnglish
Article number377
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2019
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • AMPA receptor
  • cell culture
  • GABA receptor
  • microelectrode array
  • neocortical cells
  • neuronal network
  • NMDA receptor
  • spontaneous network burst activity

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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