The recurrent synaptic architecture of neocortex allows for self-generated network activity. One form of such activity is the Up state, in which neurons transiently receive barrages of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs that depolarize many neurons to spike threshold before returning to a relatively quiescent Down state. The extent to which different cell types participate in Up states is still unclear. Inhibitory interneurons have particularly diverse intrinsic properties and synaptic connections with the local network, suggesting that different interneurons might play different roles in activated network states. We have studied the firing, subthreshold behavior, and synaptic conductances of identified cell types during Up and Down states in layers 5 and 2/3 in mouse barrel cortex in vitro. We recorded from pyramidal cells and interneurons expressing parvalbumin (PV), somatostatin (SOM), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), or neuropeptide Y. PV cells were the most active interneuron subtype during the Up state, yet the other subtypes also received substantial synaptic conductances and often generated spikes. In all cell types except PV cells, the beginning of the Up state was dominated by synaptic inhibition, which decreased thereafter; excitation was more persistent, suggesting that inhibition is not the dominant force in terminating Up states. Compared with barrel cortex, SOM and VIP cells were much less active in entorhinal cortex during Up states. Our results provide a measure of functional connectivity of various neuron types in barrel cortex and suggest differential roles for interneuron types in the generation and control of persistent network activity.
barrel cortex; entorhinal cortex; inhibition; interneuron; slice; Up state
Gap junctions (GJs) electrically couple GABAergic neurons of the forebrain. The spatial organization of neuron clusters coupled by GJs is an important determinant of network function, yet it is poorly described for nearly all mammalian brain regions. Here we used a novel dye-coupling technique to show that GABAergic neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) of mice and rats form two types of GJ-coupled clusters with distinctive patterns and axonal projections. Most clusters are elongated narrowly along functional modules within the plane of the TRN, with axons that selectively inhibit local groups of relay neurons. However, some coupled clusters have neurons arrayed across the thickness of the TRN and target their axons to both first- and higher-order relay nuclei. Dye coupling was reduced, but not abolished, among cells of connexin36 knock-out mice. Our results suggest that GJs form two distinct types of inhibitory networks that correlate activity either within or across functional modules of the thalamus.
dye-coupling; electrical coupling; electrical synapses; gap junctions; thalamic reticular nucleus
Neurons of the inferior olivary nucleus (IO) form the climbing fibers that excite Purkinje cells of the cerebellar cortex. IO neurons are electrically coupled through gap junctions, and they generate synchronous, subthreshold oscillations of membrane potential at ~5–10 Hz. Experimental and theoretical studies have suggested that both the rhythmicity and synchrony of IO neurons require electrical coupling. We recorded from pairs of IO neurons in slices of mouse brainstem in vitro. Most pairs of neurons from wild-type (WT) mice were electrically coupled, but coupling was rare and weak between neurons of knock-out (KO) mice for connexin36, a neuronal gap junction protein. IO cells in both WT and KO mice generated rhythmic membrane fluctuations of similar frequency and amplitude. Oscillations in neighboring pairs of WT neurons were strongly synchronized, whereas the oscillations of KO pairs were uncorrelated. Spontaneous oscillations in KO neurons were not blocked by tetrodotoxin. Spontaneously oscillating neurons of both WT and KO mice generated occasional action potentials in phase with their membrane rhythms, but only the action potentials of WT neuron pairs were synchronous. Harmaline, a β-carboline derivative thought to induce tremor by facilitating rhythmogenesis in the IO, was injected systemically into WT and KO mice. Harmaline-induced tremors were robust and indistinguishable in the two genotypes, suggesting that gap junction-mediated synchrony does not play a role in harmaline-induced tremor. We conclude that electrical coupling is not necessary for the generation of spontaneous subthreshold oscillations in single IO neurons, but that coupling can serve to synchronize rhythmic activity among IO neurons.
inferior olive; electrical coupling; connexin36; gap junction; harmaline; rhythms; synchrony
Knowledge of thalamocortical (TC) processing comes mainly from studying core thalamic systems that project to middle layers of primary sensory cortices. However, most thalamic relay neurons comprise a matrix of cells that are densest in the “nonspecific” thalamic nuclei and usually target layer 1 of multiple cortical areas. A longstanding hypothesis is that matrix TC systems are crucial for regulating neocortical excitability during changing behavioral states, yet we know almost nothing about the mechanisms of such regulation. It is also unclear whether synaptic and circuit mechanisms that are well established for core sensory TC systems apply to matrix TC systems. Here we describe studies of thalamic matrix influences on mouse prefrontal cortex using optogenetic and in vitro electrophysiology techniques. Channelrhodopsin-2 was expressed in midline and paralaminar (matrix) thalamic neurons, and their layer 1-projecting TC axons were activated optically. Contrary to conventional views, we found that matrix TC projections to layer 1 could transmit relatively strong, fast, high-fidelity synaptic signals. Layer 1 TC projections preferentially drove inhibitory interneurons of layer 1, especially those of the late-spiking subtype, and often triggered feedforward inhibition in both layer 1 interneurons and pyramidal cells of layers 2/3. Responses during repetitive stimulation were far more sustained for matrix than for core sensory TC pathways. Thus, matrix TC circuits appear to be specialized for robust transmission over relatively extended periods, consistent with the sort of persistent activation observed during working memory and potentially applicable to state-dependent regulation of excitability.
The postrhinal cortex (POR) of the rat is homologous to the parahippocampal cortex of the primate based on connections and other criteria. Postrhinal cortex provides the major visual and visuospatial input to the hippocampal formation, both directly to CA1 and indirectly through connections with the medial entorhinal cortex. Although the cortical and hippocampal connections of the postrhinal cortex are well described, the physiology of postrhinal neurons has not been studied. Here we examined the electrical and morphological characteristics of layer 5 neurons from postrhinal cortex of 14-16 day-old rats using an in vitro slice preparation. Neurons were subjectively classified as regular-spiking (RS), fast-spiking (FS) or low threshold-spiking (LTS) based on their electrophysiological properties and similarities with neurons in other regions of neocortex. Cells stained with biocytin included pyramidal cells and interneurons with bitufted or multipolar dendritic patterns. Similarity analysis using only physiological data yielded three clusters that corresponded to FS, LTS, and RS classes. The cluster corresponding to the FS class was composed entirely of multipolar nonpyramidal cells, and the cluster corresponding to the RS class was composed entirely of pyramidal cells. The third cluster, corresponding to the LTS class, was heterogeneous and included both multipolar and bitufted dendritic arbors as well as one pyramidal cell. We did not observe any intrinsically bursting pyramidal cells, which is similar to entorhinal cortex but unlike perirhinal cortex. We conclude that POR includes at least two major classes of neocortical inhibitory interneurons, but has a functionally restricted cohort of pyramidal cells.
parahippocampal; temporal cortex; perirhinal; entorhinal; hippocampal
Gap junctions mediate metabolic and electrical interactions between some cells of the central nervous system. For many types of neurons, gap junction-mediated electrical coupling is most prevalent during early development, then decreases sharply with maturation. However, neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which exert powerful inhibitory control over thalamic relay cells, are electrically coupled in relatively mature animals. It is not known whether TRN cells or any neurons that are electrically coupled when mature are also coupled during early development. We used dual whole-cell recordings in mouse brain slices to study the postnatal development of electrical and chemical synapses that interconnect TRN neurons. Inhibitory chemical synapses were seen as early as postnatal day four but were infrequent at all ages, whereas TRN cells were extensively connected by electrical synapses from birth onward. Surprisingly, the functional strength of electrical coupling, assayed under steady state conditions or during spiking, remained relatively constant as the brain matured despite dramatic concurrent changes of intrinsic membrane properties. Most notably, neuronal input resistances declined almost eight-fold during the first two postnatal weeks, but there were offsetting increases in gap junctional conductances. This suggests that the size or number of gap junctions increase homeostatically to compensate for leakier nonjunctional membranes. Additionally, we found that the ability of electrical synapses to synchronize high frequency subthreshold signals improved as TRN cells matured. Our results demonstrate that certain central neurons may maintain or even increase their gap junctional communication as they mature.
gap junction; electrical synapse; connexin; development; thalamus; inhibition
Temperature has multiple effects on neurons, yet little is known about the effects of high temperature on the physiology of mammalian central neurons. Hyperthermia can influence behavior and cause febrile seizures. We studied the effects of acute hyperthermia on the immature hippocampus in vitro by recording from pyramidal neurons and inhibitory oriens-lacunosum moleculare (O-LM) interneurons (identified by green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression in the GIN mouse line). Warming to 41°C caused depolarization, spontaneous action potentials, reduced input resistance and membrane time constant, and increased spontaneous synaptic activity of most pyramidal cells and O-LM interneurons. Pyramidal neurons of area CA3 were more strongly excited by hyperthermia than those of area CA1. About 90% of O-LM interneurons in both CA1 and CA3 increased their firing rates at hyperthermic temperatures; interneurons in CA3 fired faster than those in CA1 on average. Blockade of fast synaptic transmission did not abolish the effect of hyperthermia on neuronal excitability. Our results suggest that hyperthermia increases hippocampal excitability, particularly in seizure-prone area CA3, by altering the intrinsic membrane properties of pyramidal cells and interneurons.
febrile seizures; hippocampal neurons; hyperthermia; inhibition
Somatostatin-expressing, low threshold-spiking (LTS) cells and fast-spiking (FS) cells are two common subtypes of inhibitory neocortical interneuron. Excitatory synapses from regular-spiking (RS) pyramidal neurons to LTS cells strongly facilitate when activated repetitively, whereas RS-to-FS synapses depress. This suggests that LTS neurons may be especially relevant at high rate regimes and protect cortical circuits against over-excitation and seizures. However, the inhibitory synapses from LTS cells usually depress, which may reduce their effectiveness at high rates. We ask: by which mechanisms and at what firing rates do LTS neurons control the activity of cortical circuits responding to thalamic input, and how is control by LTS neurons different from that of FS neurons? We study rate models of circuits that include RS cells and LTS and FS inhibitory cells with short-term synaptic plasticity. LTS neurons shift the RS firing-rate vs. current curve to the right at high rates and reduce its slope at low rates; the LTS effect is delayed and prolonged. FS neurons always shift the curve to the right and affect RS firing transiently. In an RS-LTS-FS network, FS neurons reach a quiescent state if they receive weak input, LTS neurons are quiescent if RS neurons receive weak input, and both FS and RS populations are active if they both receive large inputs. In general, FS neurons tend to follow the spiking of RS neurons much more closely than LTS neurons. A novel type of facilitation-induced slow oscillations is observed above the LTS firing threshold with a frequency determined by the time scale of recovery from facilitation. To conclude, contrary to earlier proposals, LTS neurons affect the transient and steady state responses of cortical circuits over a range of firing rates, not only during the high rate regime; LTS neurons protect against over-activation about as well as FS neurons.
The brain consists of circuits of neurons that signal to one another via synapses. There are two classes of neurons: excitatory cells, which cause other neurons to become more active, and inhibitory neurons, which cause other neurons to become less active. It is thought that the activity of excitatory neurons is kept in check largely by inhibitory neurons; when such an inhibitory “brake” fails, a seizure can result. Inhibitory neurons of the low-threshold spiking (LTS) subtype can potentially fulfill this braking, or anticonvulsant, role because the synaptic input to these neurons facilitates, i.e., those neurons are active when excitatory neurons are strongly active. Using a computational model we show that, because the synaptic output of LTS neurons onto excitatory neurons depresses (decreases with activity), the ability of LTS neurons to prevent strong cortical activity and seizures is not qualitatively larger than that of inhibitory neurons of another subtype, the fast-spiking (FS) cells. Furthermore, short-term (∼one second) changes in the strength of synapses to and from LTS interneurons allow them to shape the behavior of cortical circuits even at modest rates of activity, and an RS-LTS-FS circuit is capable of producing slow oscillations, on the time scale of these short-term changes.
Electrical synapses and synchrony are nearly synonymous. In this issue of Neuron, Vervaeke et al. broaden this longstanding association. They found that in the Golgi cell network of the cerebellum electrical synapses synchronize resting activity, and cause surround inhibition and desynchronization in response to excitatory input.
Thalamocortical and corticothalamic pathways mediate bidirectional communication between the thalamus and neocortex. These pathways are entwined, making their study challenging. Here we used lentiviruses to express channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a light-sensitive cation channel, in either thalamocortical or corticothalamic projection cells. Infection occurred only locally but efferent axons and their terminals expressed ChR2 strongly, allowing selective optical activation of each pathway. Laser stimulation of ChR2-expressing thalamocortical axons/terminals evoked robust synaptic responses in cortical excitatory cells and fast-spiking (FS) inhibitory interneurons, but only weak responses in somatostatin-containing interneurons. Strong FS cell activation led to feedforward inhibition in all cortical neuron types, including FS cells. Corticothalamic stimulation excited thalamic relay cells and inhibitory neurons of the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). TRN activation triggered inhibition in relay cells but not in TRN neurons. Thus, a major difference between thalamocortical and corticothalamic processing was the extent to which feedforward inhibitory neurons were themselves engaged by feedforward inhibition.
Neural stimulation with high spatial and temporal precision is desirable both for studying the real-time dynamics of neural networks and for prospective clinical treatment of neurological diseases. Optical stimulation of genetically targeted neurons expressing the light sensitive channel protein Channelrhodopsin (ChR2) has recently been reported as a means for millisecond temporal control of neuronal spiking activities with cell-type selectivity. This offers the prospect of enabling local delivery of optical stimulation and the simultaneous monitoring of the neural activity by electrophysiological means, both in the vicinity of and distant to the stimulation site. We report here a novel dual-modality hybrid device, which consists of a tapered coaxial optical waveguide (‘optrode’) integrated into a 100 element intra-cortical multi-electrode recording array. We first demonstrate the dual optical delivery and electrical recording capability of the single optrode in in vitro preparations of mouse retina, photo-stimulating the native retinal photoreceptors while recording light-responsive activities from ganglion cells. The dual-modality array device was then used in ChR2 transfected mouse brain slices. Specifically, epileptiform events were reliably optically triggered by the optrode and their spatiotemporal patterns were simultaneously recorded by the multi-electrode array.