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J Neurosci. 2002 Nov 15;22(22):9651-5.

Role of thalamocortical sensory suppression during arousal: focusing sensory inputs in neocortex.

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


The thalamus serves as a gate that regulates the flow of sensory inputs to the neocortex, and this gate is controlled by neuromodulators from the brainstem reticular formation that are released during arousal. We found recently that sensory-evoked responses are suppressed in the neocortex during arousal. This sensory suppression results from the activity-dependent depression of the thalamocortical connection caused by increased tonic firing of thalamocortical cells during arousal. In the present study, the functional consequences of thalamocortical suppression during arousal were investigated using the vibrissae system of rodents. The results show that thalamocortical suppression is associated with a strong reduction in the spread of sensory inputs through the cortex, thus reducing the size of sensory representations. In addition, when the responses of single cells to principal and adjacent whiskers are compared, the response to the adjacent whiskers was found to be strongly suppressed, much more so than that of principal whiskers. Consequently, the receptive fields of cortical neurons become more focused to the principal whisker. The results indicate that thalamocortical suppression during arousal serves to focus sensory inputs to their appropriate representations in neocortex, which may be computationally helpful for the spatial processing of sensory information.

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