Achieving high-frequency optical control of synaptic transmission

Skyler L. Jackman, Brandon M. Beneduce, Iain R. Drew, Wade G. Regehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The optogenetic tool channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is widely used to excite neurons to study neural circuits. Previous optogenetic studies of synapses suggest that light-evoked synaptic responses often exhibit artificial synaptic depression, which has been attributed to either the inability of ChR2 to reliably fire presynaptic axons or to ChR2 elevating the probability of release by depolarizing presynaptic boutons. Here, we compare light-evoked and electrically evoked synaptic responses for high-frequency stimulation at three synapses in the mouse brain. At synapses from Purkinje cells to deep cerebellar nuclei neurons (PC→DCN), light- and electrically evoked synaptic currents were remarkably similar for ChR2 expressed transgenically or with adeno-associated virus (AAV) expression vectors. For hippocampal CA3→CA1 synapses, AAV expression vectors of serotype 1, 5, and 8 led to light-evoked synaptic currents that depressed much more than electrically evoked currents, even though ChR2 could fire axons reliably at up to 50 Hz. The disparity between optical and electrical stimulation was eliminated when ChR2 was expressed transgenically or with AAV9. For cerebellar granule cell to stellate cell (grc→SC) synapses, AAV1 also led to artificial synaptic depression and AAV9 provided superior performance. Artificial synaptic depression also occurred when stimulating over presynaptic boutons, rather than axons, at CA3→CA1 synapses, but not at PC→DCN synapses. These findings indicate that ChR2 expression methods and light stimulation techniques influence synaptic responses in a neuron-specific manner. They also identify pitfalls associated with using ChR2 to study synapses and suggest an approach that allows optogenetics to be applied in a manner that helps to avoid potential complications

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7704-7714
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number22
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • AAV
  • Channelrhodopsin
  • Optogenetics
  • Short-term plasticity
  • Synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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