Although LTP (long-term potentiation) of synaptic transmission has received much attention as a model for learning and memory, its function within a neural circuit context remains poorly understood. To monitor LTP over an extensive circuit, we imaged responses in hippocampal slices using a voltage-sensitive dye. Following theta-burst stimulation, evoked optical signals showed an increase that lasted 40 min or more. Weak stimuli only potentiated the local area around the stimulating electrode, but stronger stimuli induced LTP over a wide area with a complex and non-uniform spatial pattern. The expression of LTP showed distinct peaks and valleys that depended on which axons were activated. Interestingly, the spatial distribution of LTP bore no relation to the spatial distribution of single-shock responses, but closely resembled the distribution of postsynaptic spikes evoked by theta bursts. Thus, postsynaptic spikes during induction constitute a critical determinant for the expression of LTP in intact circuits.
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