Competition for synaptic building blocks shapes synaptic plasticity

  1. Jochen Triesch  Is a corresponding author
  2. Anh Duong Vo
  3. Anne-Sophie Hafner
  1. Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany
  2. Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Germany


Changes in the efficacies of synapses are thought to be the neurobiological basis of learning and memory. The efficacy of a synapse depends on its current number of neurotransmitter receptors. Recent experiments have shown that these receptors are highly dynamic, moving back and forth between synapses on time scales of seconds and minutes. This suggests spontaneous fluctuations in synaptic efficacies and a competition of nearby synapses for available receptors. Here we propose a mathematical model of this competition of synapses for neurotransmitter receptors from a local dendritic pool. Using minimal assumptions, the model produces a fast multiplicative scaling behavior of synapses. Furthermore, the model explains a transient form of heterosynaptic plasticity and predicts that its amount is inversely related to the size of the local receptor pool. Overall, our model reveals logistical tradeoffs during the induction of synaptic plasticity due to the rapid exchange of neurotransmitter receptors between synapses.

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Program code of the model is publicly available at:

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Jochen Triesch

    Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-8166-2441
  2. Anh Duong Vo

    Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Anne-Sophie Hafner

    Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4416-7307


Johanna Quandt Foundation

  • Jochen Triesch

European Molecular Biology Organization (ALTF 1095-2015)

  • Anne-Sophie Hafner

Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (3.3-1184902-FRA-HFST-P)

  • Anne-Sophie Hafner

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Timothy O'Leary, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Version history

  1. Received: April 24, 2018
  2. Accepted: September 14, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: September 17, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: October 11, 2018 (version 2)


© 2018, Triesch et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Jochen Triesch
  2. Anh Duong Vo
  3. Anne-Sophie Hafner
Competition for synaptic building blocks shapes synaptic plasticity
eLife 7:e37836.

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