Skip to main content

Differential sensitivity of three forms of hippocampal synaptic potentiation to depotentiation


Theta-burst stimulation (TBS) induces short-term potentiation (STP) plus two types of transcriptionally-independent forms of long-term potentiation (LTP), termed LTP1 and LTP2. We have compared the susceptibility of these three types of synaptic plasticity to depotentiation, induced by low frequency stimulation (LFS; 2 Hz for 10 min) at the Schaffer collateral-commissural pathway in area CA1 of adult rat hippocampal slices. In interleaved experiments, STP and LTP were induced by three episodes of either compressed or spaced TBS (cTBS or sTBS). LFS had a more pronounced effect on the LTP induced by the cTBS. One traditional interpretation of these results is a difference in the time-dependent immunity against depotentiation. We suggest an alternative explanation: LFS rapidly reverses STP to reveal a slowly developing LTP. The cTBS protocol induces LTP1 that is moderately sensitive to depotentiation. The sTBS induces an additional component of LTP (LTP2) that is resistant to depotentiation.

Main text

N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-dependent synaptic potentiation is not a unitary process, but it can be divided into several temporally and mechanistically distinct components. Following a brief period of high-frequency stimulation followed by regular test pulses, there is a decaying phase, known as short-term potentiation (STP), and a persistent phase known as long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP can also be further subdivided into two components (termed LTP1 and LTP2) based on its sensitivity to inhibitors of protein kinase A (PKA), protein synthesis and calcium-permeable AMPA receptors (CP-AMPARs) (e.g., [1]). A single or compressed burst of high frequency stimulation, such as theta burst stimulation (TBS), induces LTP1 which is independent of these factors. Multiple spaced stimuli, with an inter-episode interval in the order of minutes, induces LTP of similar magnitude but a substantial component (i.e., LTP2) is sensitive to inhibitors of PKA, protein synthesis and CP-AMPARs. In the present study, we compared in interleaved experiments, LTP induced by a compressed (cTBS) and a spaced (sTBS) induction protocol, where the only difference was in the inter-episode interval (10 s vs. 10 min; Fig. 1a). Both protocols induced a decaying STP that stabilized into an LTP of similar magnitude (Additional file 1: Figure S1a).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Distinct depotentiation of LTP induced by compressed versus spaced theta burst stimulation (TBS). a Schematic for extracellular recordings at Schaffer collateral-commissural CA1 synapses from adult rat hippocampus. The induction protocols for compressed (c) and spaced (s) TBS are summarized below. b The effects of LFS (2 Hz for 10 min) indicated by the hatched grey bar on naïve (i.e., unconditioned) synapses (n = 8). c Representative traces for baseline, LTP and depotentiation from experiments f and g (timing indicated by numbers). d-m The effects of LFS on cTBS- and sTBS-induced LTP after 5 min (d and e; n = 11 and 6), 30 min (f and g; n = 11 and 10), 60 min (h and i; n = 11 and 10), 120 min (j and k; n = 6 and 8) and 180 min (l and m; n = 10 and 7) after the last TBS. n Summary plot for the levels of depotentiation for cTBS and sTBS. The level of depotentiation is expresssed as the % reversal (from the potentiated response to the initial baseline) measured 30 min after the end of LFS, and plotted according to the time between TBS3 and LFS (TBS3 ➔ LFS). Regressions are statistically different (*p < 0.05). o-p Potentiation of synaptic responses following cTBS (o) or sTBS (p) for pathways receiving LFS (red) and their controls (black). The plots reveal the time course of development of LTP

The persistence of LTP can be disrupted by low-frequency stimulation (LFS) by a phenomenon known as depotentiation (e.g., [2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10]). In the absence of prior LTP, LFS (2 Hz for 10 min) induced a transient depression of synaptic responses that recovered to baseline within 30 min (n = 8; Fig. 1b). In contrast, when delivered after the induction of LTP, LFS invariably induced depotentiation of the synaptic response (Fig. 1c-n). We varied the timing between the induction of LTP and the delivery of LFS from between 5 and 180 min and quantified the level of depotentiation, 30 min from the end of the LFS train (Fig. 1d-n).

When LFS was delivered 5 min after the end of cTBS (Fig. 1d) or sTBS (Fig. 1e) the level of depotentiation was similar (82 ± 8% and 72 ± 10%, respectively). With a 30 min interval the level of depotentiation decreased to 69 ± 10% and 34 ± 9%, respectively (*p < 0.05). From 60 min onwards, the level of depotentiation described by a single exponential regression plateaued at 46 and 36%, respectively (p > 0.05). Comparison of the two plots revealed a significant difference over the time-course of the experiment (*p < 0.05; Fig. 1n). We also plotted the depotentiation data relative to the second (Additional file 1: Figure S1g) and first (Additional file 1: Figure S1h) bout of TBS. Although there was still a trend for a difference in the levels of depotentiation, this was not statistically significant.

An alternative way of interpreting these data is that LFS completely depotentiates STP, an hypothesis compatible with the extreme activity-dependence of decay of STP [11]. Consequently, what is observed is the gradual development of LTP. Consistent with this interpretation, previous work has shown that, in response to high frequency stimulation, LTP comprises an initial presynaptic change, that corresponds in time with STP, and a gradually developing postsynaptic change, as detected by alterations in sensitivity to the activation of AMPA receptors [12]. We performed paired-pulse experiments that confirmed there is a slowly decaying presynaptic STP in response to both cTBS and sTBS (Additional file 1: Figure S1b-f). To compare the overall development of potentiation after LFS, we plotted the size of the fEPSP as a function of time after the initial TBS. LTP developed slowly in response to both cTBS (Fig. 1o) and sTBS (Fig. 1p), but was considerably larger in the latter case. Time-matched comparisons of the extent of LTP, with and without LFS, revealed a statistically significant susceptibility of LTP to LFS for cTBS but not for sTBS (Additional file 1: Figure S1j-k). Therefore, these results can be interpreted by the co-existence of STP, that is highly sensitive to depotentiation, plus a time-invariant (over the course of these experiments) depotentiation of LTP1. The depotentiation of LTP induced by sTBS can be largely, if not exclusively, explained by the LTP1 component of the response, which comprises ~ 30–40% of the sTBS-induced LTP [13]. Therefore, LTP2 is highly resistant to depotentiation.

Synaptic potentiation at CA1 synapses is often considered as a unitary phenomenon. However, at least three mechanistically-distinct forms of NMDA receptor-dependent synaptic potentiation co-exist during the first few hours following its induction [1]. High frequency transmission (e.g., TBS) induces an initial STP, that is mediated by an increase in neurotransmitter release probability, followed by stable LTP, that is mediated, at least in part, by postsynaptic alterations. Our new paired-pulse facilitation data, presented in Additional file 1: Figure S1b-f, is consistent with this distinction. By comparing the ability of LFS to affect synaptic potentiation induced by cTBS and sTBS over a 3 h time interval we can propose the following: First, that STP, induced by either cTBS or sTBS, is the most sensitive form of synaptic plasticity to the effects of LFS. This sensitivity can be explained by the extreme activity-dependent decay of STP [11]. Second, that LTP1 is more sensitive than LTP2 to depotentiation. In this regard, it should be noted that at least a portion of the depotentiation of the LTP induced by a sTBS can be attributed to depotentiation of the LTP1 that is invariably induced along with LTP2. The most straightforward interpretation of our results is that STP is rapidly and fully depotentiated by LFS, LTP1 displays a moderate, potentially time-independent depotentiation and LTP2 is insensitive to depotentiation.

Our findings are consistent with the notion that resistance against depotentiation requires protein synthesis [9]. In other words, LTP2 is more resistant to depotentiation because of the nature of the potentiation induced, which likely involves morphological changes. In contrast, LTP1, which probably involves primarily post-translational modifications affecting AMPARs at the synapse [1], is more readily reversible. Indeed, both alterations in the single-channel conductance properties and the number of AMPARs at synapses can be rapidly and fully reversed by depotentiation [10]. In conclusion, three forms of synaptic potentiation co-exist but can be clearly distinguished on the basis of their sensitivity to depotentiation.

Materials and methods

Hippocampal slice preparation

Experiments were performed as described previously [13,14,15]. In brief, transverse hippocampal slices (400 μm) were prepared from male Sprague-Dawley rats (10–12 weeks of age). Animals were anesthetized with isoflurane and sacrificed by decapitation in accordance with Korea and UK animal legislation. The brain was then removed and placed in ice-cold slicing solution that contained (mM): 124 NaCl, 3 KCl, 26 NaHCO3, 1.25 NaH2PO4, 10 MgSO4, 10 D-glucose and 1 CaCl2, saturated with 95% O2 and 5% CO2. The hippocampi were rapidly isolated from the brain and sliced using a vibratome (Leica, VT1000S) while maintained in the slicing solution. The CA3 region was surgically removed to suppress the upstream neuronal excitability, and the slices were transferred to an incubation chamber that contained the recording solution (artificial cerebrospinal fluid, ACSF; mM): 124 NaCl, 3 KCl, 26 NaHCO3, 1.25 NaH2PO4, 2 MgSO4, 10 D-glucose and 2 CaCl2 (oxygenated with 95% O2 and 5% CO2). Slices were allowed to recover at 32–34 °C for 30 min, and then maintained at 26–28 °C for a minimum of 1 h before recordings were made.

Field excitatory postsynaptic potential (fEPSP) recordings

The extracellular electrophysiology was performed in an interface type chamber maintained at 32 °C, and continuously perfused at 2 mL/min with the oxygenated ACSF. The slope of evoked fEPSPs (V/s) was measured in the CA1 region of hippocampal slices and bipolar stimulating electrodes were used at a constant intensity (0.1 ms pulse width) throughout the experiments. Signals were amplified using Axopatch 1D (Molecular Devices) and digitized with BNC-2110 (National Instruments) A/D board at a sampling rate of 20 kHz. Recordings were monitored and analyzed using WinLTP. Each experiment was conducted on slices from separate animals, so the n-value reflects both the number of slices and animals used.

Schaffer collateral-commissural fibres were stimulated to obtain the evoked synaptic responses, each at a constant frequency of 0.033 Hz. Following a stable baseline period of at least 20 min, LTP was induced using theta-burst stimulation (TBS) delivered at the same basal stimulus intensity. An episode of TBS comprises 5 bursts at 5 Hz, with each burst composed of 5 pulses at 100 Hz. For compressed (c) TBS induction of LTP, three TBS episodes were delivered with an inter-episode interval (IEI) of 10 s. For spaced (s) TBS, the same number of episodes were given with an IEI of 10 min. Representative sample traces are an average of 5 consecutive responses, collected from typical experiments (stimulus artifacts were blanked for clarity).

To measure the reversibility of LTP (i.e., depotentiation), low-frequency stimulation (LFS; 2 Hz for 10 min) was given at various time points (5, 30, 60, 120 and 180 min) following cTBS and sTBS. Often two-input experiments were performed to ensure recording stability. Since we found no difference between one and two-input studies, these results were pooled. In order to quantify depotentiation (%), the last 60 s of responses of LTP (pre-LFS) and the 60 s of responses obtained 30 min after the end of LFS were compared. If LFS had no effect on the response size then depotentiation would be considered to be 0% whereas if LFS restored the synaptic response to the pre-TBS baseline then depotentiation would be considered to be 100%. The actual values fell between these ranges.

Statistical analysis

Data are presented as mean ± SEM (standard error of the mean). Responses were normalised to the baseline prior to LTP induction. Statistical significance was assessed using ANOVA with Bonferroni’s correction; the level of significance is denoted as follows: *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01 and ***p < 0.001. Regression curves are single exponentials and compared by extra sum-of-squares F-test. In Fig. 1o-p, regressions and time-matched data plots for LTP were obtained from Fig. 1l-m (except for the 220 and 240 min data points that were derived from Additional file 2: Figure S2).



α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate receptor


Compressed TBS


Low-frequency stimulation


Long-term potentiation


N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor


Protein kinase A


Spaced TBS


Short-term potentiation


Theta-burst stimulation


  1. Bliss TVP, Collingridge GL, Morris RGM, Reymann KG. Long-term potentiation in the hippocampus: discovery, mechanisms and function. Neuroforum. 2018;24:A103–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Stäubli U, Lynch G. Stable depression of potentiated synaptic responses in the hippocampus with 1-5 Hz stimulation. Brain Res. 1990;513:113–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bashir ZI, Collingridge GL. An investigation of depotentiation of long-term potentiation in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. Exp Brain Res. 1994;100:437–43.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. O'Dell TJ, Kandel ER. Low-frequency stimulation erases LTP through an NMDA receptor-mediated activation of protein phosphatases. Learn Mem. 1994;1:129–39.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Doyle CA, Cullen WK, Rowan MJ, Anwyl R. Low-frequency stimulation induces homosynaptic depotentiation but not long-term depression of synaptic transmission in the adult anaesthetized and awake rat hippocampus in vivo. Neuroscience. 1997;77:75–85.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Xu L, Anwyl R, Rowan MJ. Spatial exploration induces a persistent reversal of long-term potentiation in rat hippocampus. Nature. 1998;394:891–4.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Stäubli U, Scafidi J. Time-dependent reversal of long-term potentiation in area CA1 of the freely moving rat induced by theta pulse stimulation. J Neurosci. 1999;19:8712–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Abraham WC. How long will long-term potentiation last? Philos Trans R Soc Lond Ser B Biol Sci. 2003;358:735–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Woo NH, Nguyen PV. Protein synthesis is required for synaptic immunity to depotentiation. J Neurosci. 2003;23:1125–32.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Lüthi A, Wikström MA, Palmer MJ, Matthews P, Benke TA, Isaac JT, et al. Bi-directional modulation of AMPA receptor unitary conductance by synaptic activity. BMC Neurosci. 2004;5:44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Volianskis A, Jensen MS. Transient and sustained types of long-term potentiation in the CA1 area of the rat hippocampus. J Physiol. 2003;550:459–92.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Davies SN, Lester RAJ, Reymann KG, Collingridge GL. Temporally distinct pre- and post-synaptic mechanisms maintain long-term potentiation. Nature. 1989;338:500–3.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Park P, Sanderson TM, Amici M, Choi S-L, Bortolotto ZA, Zhuo M, et al. Calcium-permeable AMPA receptors mediate the induction of the protein kinase A-dependent component of long-term potentiation in the Hippocampus. J Neurosci. 2016;36:622–31.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Choi J-H, Park P, Baek G-C, Sim S-E, Kang SJ, Lee Y, et al. Effects of PI3Kγ overexpression in the hippocampus on synaptic plasticity and spatial learning. Mol Brain. 2014;7:78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kang SJ, Liu M-G, Chen T, Ko H-G, Baek G-C, Lee H-R, et al. Plasticity of metabotropic glutamate receptor-dependent long-term depression in the anterior cingulate cortex after amputation. J Neurosci. 2012;32:11318–29.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the BKK and GLC lab members for their productive discussion.


This work was supported by the Brain Canada Foundation through the Canada Brain Research Fund, with the financial support of Health Canada. Additional support was provided by the MRC, ERC, Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) Foundation grant (G.L.C), the EJLB-CIHR Michael Smith Chair in Neurosciences and Mental Health, Canada Research Chair, and CIHR operating grants (CIHR66975 and 84256) (M.Z.) and the National Honor Scientist Program of the National Research Foundation funded by the Korea government (2012R1A3A1050385) (B-K.K).

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



PP performed the experiments, analysis and co-wrote and prepared the manuscript, TMS, ZAB, JG, MZ and BKK contributed to the manuscript, and GLC designed the studies and co-wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Graham L. Collingridge.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval

All experiments were conducted in accordance with the policies and regulations for the care and use of laboratory animals as approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Seoul National University and the UK Home Office.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Additional files

Additional file 1:

Figure S1. Differential sensitivity of STP, LTP1 and LTP2 to depotentiation. (a) Pooled data (n = 6) showing the effects on synaptic potentiation of a sTBS on one input followed 30 min later by a cTBS on a second independent input. Paired-pulse stimulation (50 ms intervals) was delivered throughout the experiments. (b) A plot of the paired-pulse ratio for the sTBS input. (c) Plot of paired-pulse ratio for the cTBS input. Note that there is a reduction in the paired-pulse ratio during STP, but not after LTP had stabilized. (d-f) Plot of the paired-pulse ratio as a function of time following either first (TBS1), second (TBS2) or the last TBS (TBS3). (g-h) Extent of depotentiation for cTBS and sTBS, plotted as a function of the time between TBS2 and LFS (g) and TBS1 and LFS (h). (i) Plot of the time course of synaptic potentiation induced by cTBS versus sTBS either in the presence or absence of LFS (pooled plots from Fig. 1o-p). (j) Individual data and statistical analysis showing the ability of LFS to effectively depotentiate cTBS-evoked synaptic potentiation at time-matched points. (k) In contrast, LFS had no significant effect when LTP, induced by sTBS, had reached a plateau. ***p < 0.001; **p < 0.01; *p < 0.05 versus control. (TIFF 1040 kb)

Additional file 2:

Figure S2. Additional LTP experiments. (a) Pooled data (n = 7) showing the effects of cTBS monitored during the course of 5 h. (b) The same experiments except for sTBS used for LTP induction (n = 6). (TIFF 454 kb)

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Park, P., Sanderson, T.M., Bortolotto, Z.A. et al. Differential sensitivity of three forms of hippocampal synaptic potentiation to depotentiation. Mol Brain 12, 30 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: