1. We used whole cell recordings to compare passive membrane properties and synaptic properties of postnatal rat hippocampal neurons grown for 7-15 days in either conventional mass cultures or on physically restricted microisland cultures. Despite matching microisland and mass culture cells across several variables. there were significant differences between neurons in the two groups regarding passive membrane characteristics and synaptic properties. 2. Microisland neurons displayed significantly faster charging of the membrane capacitance than mass culture counterparts matched with microisland neurons for age, somal diameter, and transmitter phenotype. When we used a two-compartment equivalent circuit model to quantify this result, microisland neurons displayed approximately half the distal capacitance of mass culture neurons. These data suggest that microisland neurons elaborate less extensive neuritic arborizations than mass culture neurons. 3. Evoked synaptic responses were enhanced on microislands compared with mass cultures. Excitatory and inhibitory autaptic currents were more frequent and displayed larger amplitudes on single neuron microislands than in matched mass culture neurons. 4. In recordings from pairs of neurons in the two environments, we observed a significantly higher probability of obtaining a mono-synaptic response on two-neuron microislands than in matched mass culture pairs (85% vs. 42%). Evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents were also significantly larger in the microisland environment, with evoked excitatory synaptic currents from two-neuron microislands exhibiting a mean amplitude 20-fold larger than mass culture monosynaptic responses. 5. The differences in evoked synaptic responses were not reflected in differences in the amplitude or frequency of spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs). Analysis of mEPSC rise times, decay times, and peak amplitudes within individual cells suggests that electrotonic filtering is not an important contributor to the variability of peak amplitudes and decay times of synaptic currents in cells of either culture environment. However, composite data across neurons in both cultures reveal a significant correlation between mEPSC rise and decay times. 6. Our results suggest that the microisland preparation may be a useful tool for exploring factors that influence synapse formation and development. Additionally, the preparation is a particularly convenient model for the study of single-neuron-mediated synaptic events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-332
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995


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