The noradrenergic nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) is critically involved in the stress response and receives afferent input from a number of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) containing structures. Several in vivo and in vitro studies in rat have shown that CRF robustly increases the firing rate of LC neurons in a dose-dependent manner. While it is known that these increases are dependent on CRF receptor subtype 1 and mediated by effects of cAMP intracellular signaling cascades on potassium conductance, the impact of CRF on synaptic transmission within LC has not been clarified. In the present study, we used whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology to assess how varying concentrations of bath-applied CRF affect AMPA-receptor dependent spontaneous excitatory post-synaptic currents (sEPSCs). Compared to vehicle, 10, 25, and 100 nm CRF had no significant effects on any sEPSC parameters. Fifty nanomolar CRF, however, significantly increased sEPSC amplitude, half-width, and charge transfer, while these measures were significantly decreased by 200 nm CRF. These observations suggest that stress may differentially affect ongoing excitatory synaptic transmission in LC depending on how much CRF is released from presynaptic terminals. Combined with the well-documented effects of CRF on membrane properties and spontaneous LC discharge, these observations may help explain how stress and CRF release are able to modulate the signal to noise ratio of LC neurons. These findings have implications for how stress affects the fidelity of signal transmission and information flow through LC and how it might impact norepinephrine release in the CNS.
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