Experience-dependent homeostasis of ‘noise’ at inhibitory synapses preserves information coding in adult visual cortex

Ming Gao, Jessica L. Whitt, Shiyong Huang, Angela Lee, Stefan Mihalas, Alfredo Kirkwood, Hey Kyoung Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1715
StatePublished - Mar 5 2017


  • Cortical plasticity
  • Homeostatic synaptic plasticity
  • Inhibition
  • Miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current
  • Spontaneous release

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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