Sheets, L., He, X.J., Olt, J., Schreck, M., Petralia, R.S., Wang, Y.X., Zhang, Q., Beirl, A., Nicolson, T., Marcotti, W., Trapani, J.G., Kindt, K.S. (2017) Enlargement of ribbons in zebrafish hair cells increases calcium currents, but disrupts afferent spontaneous activity and timing of stimulus onset. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 37(26):6299-6313.
In sensory hair cells of auditory and vestibular organs, the ribbon synapse is required for the precise encoding of a wide range of complex stimuli. Hair cells have a unique presynaptic structure, the synaptic ribbon, which organizes both synaptic vesicles and calcium channels at the active zone. Previous work has shown that hair-cell ribbon size is correlated with differences in postsynaptic activity. However, additional variability in postsynapse size presents a challenge to determining the specific role of ribbon size in sensory encoding. To selectively assess the impact of ribbon size on synapse function, we examined hair cells in transgenic zebrafish that have enlarged ribbons, without postsynaptic alterations. Morphologically, we found that enlarged ribbons had more associated vesicles and reduced presynaptic calcium-channel clustering. Functionally, hair cells with enlarged ribbons had larger global and ribbon-localized calcium currents. Afferent neuron recordings revealed that hair cells with enlarged ribbons resulted in reduced spontaneous spike rates. Additionally, despite larger presynaptic calcium signals, we observed fewer evoked spikes with longer latencies from stimulus onset. Together, our work indicates that hair-cell ribbon size influences the spontaneous spiking and the precise encoding of stimulus onset in afferent neurons.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Numerous studies support that hair-cell ribbon size corresponds with functional sensitivity differences in afferent neurons and, in the case of inner hair cells of the cochlea, vulnerability to damage from noise trauma. Yet it is unclear whether ribbon size directly influences sensory encoding. Our study reveals that ribbon enlargement results in increased ribbon-localized calcium signals, yet reduces afferent spontaneous activity and disrupts the timing of stimulus onset, a distinct aspect of auditory and vestibular encoding. These observations suggest that varying ribbon size alone can influence sensory encoding, and give further insight into how hair cells transduce signals that cover a wide dynamic range of stimuli.