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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Apr;85(4):1489-97.

High-pass filtering of corticothalamic activity by neuromodulators released in the thalamus during arousal: in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2B4, Canada.


The thalamus is the principal relay station of sensory information to the neocortex. In return, the neocortex sends a massive feedback projection back to the thalamus. The thalamus also receives neuromodulatory inputs from the brain stem reticular formation, which is vigorously activated during arousal. We investigated the effects of two neuromodulators, acetylcholine and norepinephrine, on corticothalamic responses in vitro and in vivo. Results from rodent slices in vitro showed that acetylcholine and norepinephrine depress the efficacy of corticothalamic synapses while enhancing their frequency-dependent facilitation. This produces a stronger depression of low-frequency responses than of high-frequency responses. The effects of acetylcholine and norepinephrine were mimicked by muscarinic and alpha(2)-adrenergic receptor agonists and blocked by muscarinic and alpha-adrenergic antagonists, respectively. Stimulation of the brain stem reticular formation in vivo also strongly depressed corticothalamic responses. The suppression was very strong for low-frequency responses, which do not produce synaptic facilitation, but absent for high-frequency corticothalamic responses. As in vitro, application of muscarinic and alpha-adrenergic antagonists into the thalamus in vivo abolished the suppression of corticothalamic responses induced by stimulating the reticular formation. In conclusion, cholinergic and noradrenergic activation during arousal high-pass filters corticothalamic activity. Thus, during arousal only high-frequency inputs from the neocortex are allowed to reach the thalamus. Neuromodulators acting on corticothalamic synapses gate the flow of cortical activity to the thalamus as dictated by behavioral state.

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