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Brain Res. 1991 Apr 12;546(1):83-95.

Noradrenergic potentiation of excitatory transmitter action in cerebrocortical slices: evidence for mediation by an alpha 1 receptor-linked second messenger pathway.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, PA 19102-1192.


Considerable evidence from intact, anesthetized preparations suggests that norepinephrine (NE) can modulate the efficacy of synaptic transmission within local circuits of the mammalian neocortex; i.e. both iontophoretic application of NE and activation of the coeruleocortical pathway are capable of facilitating cortical neuronal responses to non-noradrenergic synaptic inputs and putative transmitter agents. In the present study, the effects of NE on somatosensory cortical neuronal responses to putative excitatory transmitters were characterized using in vitro tissue slice preparations. Somatosensory unit responses to iontophoretic pulses of acetylcholine (ACh) or glutamate (Glu) (10-60 nA; 5-25 s duration) were examined before, during and after a period of continuous NE (1-35 nA; 4-25 min duration) microiontophoresis. Quantitative analysis of per-event histograms indicated that both Glu- and ACh-evoked excitatory discharges were routinely (Glu 94%, n = 54; ACh 67%, n = 9) potentiated above control levels during NE administration. In 8 cells, NE revealed robust excitatory discharges to otherwise subthreshold iontophoretic doses of Glu. The alpha-specific agonist, phenylephrine, mimicked (n = 3), NE-induced potentiation of Glu-evoked discharges whereas the alpha antagonist phentolamine blocked (n = 5) enhancement of these responses. Moreover, activation of protein kinase C by iontophoretic application of phorbol 12,13-diacetate (5-15 nA, n = 4) mimicked the potentiating actions of NE on Glu-evoked excitatory responses. Results from other experiments further indicated that these facilitating actions of NE on Glu-evoked responses do not involve beta receptor activation or intracellular increases in cyclic AMP. In summary, these results demonstrate that NE can facilitate cortical neuronal responses to threshold and subthreshold level applications of putative excitatory transmitter agents. Moreover, it appears that, unlike noradrenergic facilitating influences on GABA-induced inhibition, these actions are mediated by an alpha adrenoceptor mechanism which may be linked to intracellular activation of protein kinase C. Overall, these findings reinforce the idea that noradrenergic modulatory actions on excitatory and inhibitory neuronal responses may involve the activation of separate receptor-linked second messenger systems.

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