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Neuroscience. 1992 Sep;50(2):315-37.

A comparison of the electrophysiological properties of morphologically identified cells in layers 5B and 6 of the rat neocortex.

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Department of Biological Structure, University of Washington, School of Medicine, Seattle 98195.


In vitro studies performed in mammalian brain slices have shown that cortical neurons differ in their intrinsic membrane properties. In the rodent cortex these properties are related to a specific cell morphology and synaptic connectivity in some cells but not in others. Due to their small size, little is known about the intrinsic membrane properties of layer 6 cells, however, and it is not clear whether cell morphology is related to electrophysiological properties in this layer. We used a combination of intracellular recording and dye-filling to study the electrophysiological and morphological characteristics of layer 6 cells of the rat sensorimotor cortex in vitro and compared their properties to those of large layer 5B pyramidal cells. Our sample of 24 filled and anatomically reconstructed cells in layer 6 confirms previous Golgi studies that showed them to be a morphologically diverse group consisting of regularly and irregularly oriented pyramidal cells and spiny nonpyramidal cells. Regular layer 6 pyramidal cells differed with respect to the length of their apical dendrites and extent of their axonal arborizations, while irregularly oriented pyramidal cells consisted of sideways or inverted pyramidal cells of variable size and morphology. Spiny nonpyramidal cells included bi-tufted and multi-polar cell types that differed in size and extent of dendritic trees. Many layer 6 cells showed long horizontal axon collaterals in layer 6, and an oblique or vertical projection to layer 4. Stimulation with intracellular constant current pulses revealed that the morphological diversity was mirrored by a similar electrophysiological diversity. Most layer 6 cells were capable of firing trains of action potentials characterized by an initial doublet or triplet followed by a train of single spikes (phasic-tonic mode). The majority of layer 6 cells could fire in either a tonic (single spikes only) mode with low strength current input and a phasic-tonic pattern with higher current strengths. A minority fired either always phasic-tonic or tonic-only spike trains. The size and sequence of spike afterpotentials during low-rate repetitive firing was highly variable in layer 6 cells suggesting that the relative importance of ionic currents responsible for spike repolarization and afterpotentials varied from cell to cell. Subthreshold responses showed prominent inward rectification, while hyperpolarizing "sag" was present in most cells tested. In comparison, large layer 5B pyramidal cells fired either phasic-tonic only or both phasic-tonic and tonic patterns. A minority of cells were capable of firing repetitive bursts, while the remainder fired repetitive single spikes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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