It has been known for more than 70 years that synaptic strength is dynamically regulated in a use-dependent manner. At synapses with a low initial release probability, closely spaced presynaptic action potentials can result in facilitation, a short-term form of enhancement in which each subsequent action potential evokes greater neurotransmitter release. Facilitation can enhance neurotransmitter release considerably and can profoundly influence information transfer across synapses, but the underlying mechanism remains a mystery. One proposed mechanism is that a specialized calcium sensor for facilitation transiently increases the probability of release, and this sensor is distinct from the fast sensors that mediate rapid neurotransmitter release. Yet such a sensor has never been identified, and its very existence has been disputed. Here we show that synaptotagmin 7 (Syt7) is a calcium sensor that is required for facilitation at several central synapses. In Syt7-knockout mice, facilitation is eliminated even though the initial probability of release and the presynaptic residual calcium signals are unaltered. Expression of wild-type Syt7 in presynaptic neurons restored facilitation, whereas expression of a mutated Syt7 with a calcium-insensitive C2A domain did not. By revealing the role of Syt7 in synaptic facilitation, these results resolve a longstanding debate about a widespread form of short-term plasticity, and will enable future studies that may lead to a deeper understanding of the functional importance of facilitation.
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