The establishment of synaptic connections and their refinement during development require neural activity. Increasing evidence suggests that spontaneous bursts of neural activity within an immature network are mediated by gamma-aminobutyric acid via a paradoxical excitatory action. Our data show that in the developing hippocampus such synchronous burst activity is generated in the hilar region by transiently coupled cells. These cells have been identified as neuronal elements because they fire action potentials and they are not positive for the glial fibrillary acidic protein staining. Oscillations in hilar cells are 'paced' by a hyperpolarization-activated current, with properties of Ih. Coactivated interneurons synchronously release GABA, which via its excitatory action may serve a neurotrophic function during the refinement of hippocampal circuitry.
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