Spontaneous miniature synaptic activity is caused by action potential (AP)-independent release of transmitter vesicles and is regulated at the level of single synapses. In cultured cortical neurons we have used this spontaneous vesicle turnover to load the styryl dye FM1-43 into synapses with high rates of miniature synaptic activity. Automated selection procedures restricted analysis to synapses with sufficient levels of miniature activity-mediated FM1-43 uptake. After FM1-43 loading, vesicular FM1-43 release in response to AP stimulation was recorded at single synapses as a measure of release probability. We find that synapses with high rates of miniature activity possess significantly enhanced evoked release rates compared with a control population. Because the difference in release rates between the two populations is [Ca(2+)](o)-dependent, it is most likely caused by a difference in release probability. Within the subpopulation of synapses with high miniature activity, we find that the probabilities for miniature and AP-evoked release are correlated at single synaptic sites. Furthermore, the degree of miniature synaptic activity is correlated with the vesicle pool size. These findings suggest that both evoked and miniature vesicular release are regulated in parallel and that the frequency of miniature synaptic activity can be used as an indicator for evoked release efficacy.
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