Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) regulate synaptic activities and play important roles in neurodegenerative diseases. We found that these channels can be activated in neurons of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) of the auditory system in the CNS. A drop in extracellular pH induces transient inward ASIC currents (IASICs) in postsynaptic MNTB neurons from wild-type mice. The inhibition of IASICs by psalmotoxin-1 (PcTx1) and the absence of these currents in knock-out mice for ASIC-1a subunit (ASIC1a−/−) suggest that homomeric ASIC-1as are mediating these currents in MNTB neurons. Furthermore, we detect ASIC1a-dependent currents during synaptic transmission, suggesting an acidification of the synaptic cleft due to the corelease of neurotransmitter and H+ from synaptic vesicles. These currents are capable of eliciting action potentials in the absence of glutamatergic currents. A significant characteristic of these homomeric ASIC-1as is their permeability to Ca2+. Activation of ASIC-1a in MNTB neurons by exogenous H+ induces an increase in intracellular Ca2+. Furthermore, the activation of postsynaptic ASIC-1as during high-frequency stimulation (HFS) of the presynaptic nerve terminal leads to a PcTx1-sensitive increase in intracellular Ca2+ in MNTB neurons, which is independent of glutamate receptors and is absent in neurons from ASIC1a−/− mice. During HFS, the lack of functional ASICs in synaptic transmission results in an enhanced short-term depression of glutamatergic EPSCs. These results strongly support the hypothesis of protons as neurotransmitters and demonstrate that presynaptic released protons modulate synaptic transmission by activating ASIC-1as at the calyx of Held–MNTB synapse.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The manuscript demonstrates that postsynaptic neurons of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body at the mouse calyx of Held synapse express functional homomeric Acid-sensing ion channel-1a (ASIC-1as) that can be activated by protons (coreleased with neurotransmitter from acidified synaptic vesicles). These ASIC-1as contribute to the generation of postsynaptic currents and, more relevant, to calcium influx, which could be involved in the modulation of presynaptic transmitter release. Inhibition or deletion of ASIC-1a leads to enhanced short-term depression, demonstrating that they are concerned with short-term plasticity of the synapse. ASICs represent a widespread communication system with unique properties. We expect that our experiments will have an impact in the neurobiology field and will spread in areas related to neuronal plasticity.