Electric fields of synaptic currents can influence diffusion of charged neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, in the synaptic cleft. However, this phenomenon has hitherto been detected only through sustained depolarization of large principal neurons, and its adaptive significance remains unknown. Here, we find that in cerebellar synapses formed on electrically compact granule cells, a single postsynaptic action potential can retard escape of glutamate released into the cleft. This retardation boosts activation of perisynaptic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs), which in turn rapidly facilitates local NMDA receptor currents. The underlying mechanism relies on a Homer-containing protein scaffold, but not GPCR- or Ca2+-dependent signaling. Through the mGluR-NMDAR interaction, the coincidence between a postsynaptic spike and glutamate release triggers a lasting enhancement of synaptic transmission that alters the basic integrate-and-spike rule in the circuitry. Our results thus reveal an electrodiffusion-driven synaptic memory mechanism that requires high-precision coincidence detection suitable for high-fidelity circuitries.
This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust, MRC, BBSRC, and ERC Advanced Grant (D.A.R.) and the Foundation for Polish Science (P.M.). The authors thank Angus Silver, Dimitri Kullmann, Kirill Volynski, and the anonymous referees for their valuable comments and Mykola Stryebkov and Ksenia Redunova for help with data processing software.