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Phorbol esters are hypothesised to produce a protein kinase C (PKC)-dependent increase in the probability of transmitter release via two mechanisms: facilitation of vesicle fusion or increases in synaptic vesicle number and replenishment. We used a combination of electrophysiology and computer simulation to distinguish these possibilities. We constructed a stochastic model of the presynaptic contacts between a pair of hippocampal pyramidal cells that used biologically realistic processes and was constrained by electrophysiological data. The model reproduced faithfully several forms of short-term synaptic plasticity, including short-term synaptic depression (STD), and allowed us to manipulate several experimentally inaccessible processes. Simulation of an increase in the size of the readily releasable vesicle pool and the time of vesicle replenishment decreased STD, whereas simulation of a facilitation of vesicle fusion downstream of Ca2+influx enhanced STD. Because activation of protein kinase C with phorbol ester enhanced STD of EPSCs in rat hippocampal slice cultures, we conclude that an increase in the sensitivity of the release process for Ca2+underlies the potentiation of neurotransmitter release by PKC.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Physiology

Publication Date





545 - 559