Synapses are intrinsically ‘noisy’ in that neurotransmitter is occasionally released in the absence of an action potential. At inhibitory synapses, the frequency of action potential-independent release is orders of magnitude higher than that at excitatory synapses raising speculations that it may serve a function. Here we report that the frequency of action potential-independent inhibitory synaptic ‘noise’ (i.e. miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents, mIPSCs) is highly regulated by sensory experience in visual cortex. Importantly, regulation of mIPSC frequency is so far the predominant form of functional plasticity at inhibitory synapses in adults during the refractory period for plasticity and is a locus of rapid non-genomic actions of oestrogen. Models predict that regulating the frequency of mIPSCs, together with the previously characterized synaptic scaling of miniature excitatory PSCs, allows homeostatic maintenance of both the mean and variance of inputs to a neuron, a necessary feature of probabilistic population codes. Furthermore, mIPSC frequency regulation allows preservation of the temporal profile of neural responses while homeostatically regulating the overall firing rate. Our results suggest that the control of inhibitory ‘noise’ allows adaptive maintenance of adult cortical function in tune with the sensory environment.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Integrating Hebbian and homeostatic plasticity’.
- Accepted August 19, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.