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J Neurosci. 1999 Jul 1;19(13):5528-48.

Arginine analogs modify signal detection by neurons in the visual cortex.

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Department of Physiology & Biophysics and Department of Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294, USA.


Nitric oxide (NO) modulates neurotransmitter release, induction of long-term synaptic potentiation and depression, and activity levels of neurons. However, it is not known whether NO contributes to the ability of the CNS to distinguish sensory signals from background noise and/or extract sensory information with greater reliability. We addressed these questions in the visual cortex, in vivo, using electrophysiological recording and analysis of signal detection from individual neurons. This was combined with microiontophoretic application of arginine analogs that either upregulate or downregulate the brain's endogenous NO-generating pathways or compounds that produce exogenous NO. Protocols that enhance NO levels generally increased the number of action potentials per trial evoked by visual stimuli, improved signal detection, and decreased the coefficient of variation of visually evoked responses, whereas NO-reducing protocols predominantly had complementary effects. Control experiments demonstrate that these effects are likely attributable to the specific ability of these arginine compounds to modify NO levels versus other nonspecific effects. Differential effects between neighboring cells and between single-cell receptive subfields suggest that these actions have a significant direct neural component versus exclusively operating indirectly on neurons through the central vascular actions of NO.

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