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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Apr 1;89(7):2774-8.

Corticothalamic activation modulates thalamic firing through glutamate "metabotropic" receptors.

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Section of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510.


The mammalian thalamus forms an obligatory relay for nearly all sensory information that reaches the cerebral cortex. The transmission of sensory information by the thalamus varies in a state-dependent manner, such that during slow wave sleep or drowsiness thalamic responsiveness is markedly reduced, whereas during the waking, attentive state transmission is enhanced. Although activation of brainstem inputs to thalamic neurons has long been assumed to underlie this gating of sensory transfer through the thalamus, numerically the largest input to thalamic relay neurons derives from layer VI cells of the cerebral cortex. Here we report that activation of corticothalamic fibers causes a prolonged excitatory postsynaptic potential in guinea pig dorsal lateral geniculate relay neurons resulting from the reduction of a potassium conductance, consistent with the activation of glutamatergic "metabotropic" receptors. This slow depolarization can switch firing of thalamic neurons from the burst firing mode, which is prevalent during slow wave sleep, to the single spike mode, which is prevalent during waking, thereby facilitating transmission of sensory information through the thalamus. This prolonged enhancement of thalamic transfer may allow the cerebral cortex to gate or control selective fields of sensory inputs in a manner that facilitates arousal, attention, and cognition.

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