The neocortical microcircuit as a tabula rasa
The neocortex has a high capacity for plasticity. To understand the full scope of this capacity, it is essential to know how neurons choose particular partners to form synaptic connections. By using multineuron whole-cell recordings and confocal microscopy we found that axons of layer V neocortical pyramidal neurons do not preferentially project toward the dendrites of particular neighboring pyramidal neurons; instead, axons promiscuously touch all neighboring dendrites without any bias. Functional synaptic coupling of a small fraction of these neurons is, however, correlated with the existence of synaptic boutons at existing touch sites. These data provide the first direct experimental evidence for a tabula rasa-like structural matrix between neocortical pyramidal neurons and suggests that pre- and postsynaptic interactions shape the conversion between touches and synapses to form specific functional microcircuits. These data also indicate that the local neocortical microcircuit has the potential to be differently rewired without the need for remodeling axonal or dendritic arbors.