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Strength of Excitatory Inputs to Layer 3 Pyramidal Neurons During Synaptic Pruning in the Monkey Prefrontal Cortex: Relevance for the Pathogenesis of Schizophrenia



      In schizophrenia, layer 3 pyramidal neurons (L3PNs) of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex exhibit deficits in markers of excitatory synaptic inputs that are thought to disrupt the patterns of neural network activity essential for cognitive function. These deficits are usually interpreted under Irwin Feinberg’s hypothesis of altered synaptic pruning, which postulates that normal periadolescent pruning, thought to preferentially eliminate weak/immature synapses, is altered in schizophrenia. However, it remains unknown whether periadolescent pruning on L3PNs in the primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex selectively eliminates weak excitatory synapses or uniformly eliminates excitatory synapses across the full distribution of synaptic strengths.


      To distinguish between these alternative models of synaptic pruning, we assessed the densities of dendritic spines, the site of most excitatory inputs to L3PNs, and the distributions of excitatory synaptic strengths in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex L3PNs from male and female monkeys across the periadolescent period of synaptic pruning. We used patch-clamp methods in acute brain slices to record miniature excitatory synaptic currents and intracellular filling with biocytin to quantify dendritic spines.


      On L3PNs, dendritic spines exhibited the expected age-related decline in density, but mean synaptic strength and the shape of synaptic strength distributions remained stable with age.


      The absence of age-related differences in mean synaptic strength and synaptic strength distributions supports the model of a uniform pattern of synaptic pruning across the full range of synaptic strengths. The implications of these findings for the pathogenesis and functional consequences of dendritic spine deficits in schizophrenia are discussed.


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