At synapses, the pre- and postsynaptic cells get so close that currents entering the cleft do not flow exclusively along its conductance, gcl. A prominent example is found in the calyx of Held synapse in the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), where the presynaptic action potential can be recorded in the postsynaptic cell in the form of a prespike. Here, we developed a theoretical framework for ephaptic coupling via the synaptic cleft, and we tested its predictions using the MNTB prespike recorded in voltage-clamp. The shape of the prespike is predicted to resemble either the first or the second derivative of the inverted presynaptic action potential if cleft currents dissipate either mostly capacitively or resistively, respectively. We found that the resistive dissipation scenario provided a better description of the prespike shape. Its size is predicted to scale with the fourth power of the radius of the synapse, explaining why intracellularly recorded prespikes are uncommon in the central nervous system. We show that presynaptic calcium currents also contribute to the prespike shape. This calcium prespike resembled the first derivative of the inverted calcium current, again as predicted by the resistive dissipation scenario. Using this calcium prespike, we obtained an estimate for gcl of ~1 μS. We demonstrate that, for a circular synapse geometry, such as in conventional boutons or the immature calyx of Held, gcl is scale-invariant and only defined by extracellular resistivity, which was ~75 Ωcm, and by cleft height. During development the calyx of Held develops fenestrations. We show that these fenestrations effectively minimize the cleft potentials generated by the adult action potential, which might otherwise interfere with calcium channel opening. We thus provide a quantitative account of the dissipation of currents by the synaptic cleft, which can be readily extrapolated to conventional, bouton-like synapses.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors received no specific funding for this work.
Copyright: © 2021 Sierksma, Borst. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.