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Prog Brain Res. 1991;88:293-305.

Actions of norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex and thalamus: implications for function of the central noradrenergic system.

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  • 1Section of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.


Norepinephrine (NE) has potent and long-lasting ionic effects on cortical and thalamic neurons. In cortical pyramidal cells, activation of beta-adrenergic receptors results in an enhanced excitability and responsiveness to depolarizing inputs. This enhanced excitability is expressed as a reduction in spike frequency adaptation and is mediated by a marked suppression of a slow Ca(++)-activated potassium current known as IAHP. In the thalamus, application of NE results in the suppression of ongoing rhythmic burst activity and a switch to the single spike firing mode of action potential generation. This effect is mediated through an alpha 1-adrenergic suppression of a resting leak potassium current, IKL, and through a beta-adrenoceptor-mediated enhancement of the hyperpolarization activated cation current Ih. Together with the actions of other neuromodulatory neurotransmitters (i.e., acetylcholine, histamine, serotonin) these effects facilitate the switch of these neurons from a state of rhythmic oscillation and low excitability during drowsiness and slow-wave sleep to a state of increased excitability and responsiveness during periods of waking, attentiveness and cognition.

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