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Neuroscience. 1992 Dec;51(3):489-94.

Cholinergic nucleus basalis neurons display the capacity for rhythmic bursting activity mediated by low-threshold calcium spikes.

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Départment de Physiologie, Centre Médical Universitaire, Geneva, Switzerland.


Acetylcholine has long been known to play an important role in the cortical activation that accompanies the states of wakefulness and paradoxical sleep (for review, see Refs 17, 21) when this neurotransmitter is released from the cerebral cortex at the highest rates. The major supply of acetylcholine to the cerebral cortex arises from the cholinergic neurons of Meynert's Basal-ganglion or nucleus basalis of the forebrain. Lying in the substantia innominata within the major ascending pathway from the brain stem reticular formation, magnocellular basalis neurons project upon the cerebral cortex as the important ventral, extrathalamic relay of the ascending reticular activating system. Although the cholinergic basalis nucleus neurons have been shown to be important for cortical activation, the precise manner in which they influence cortical activity has not as yet been elucidated, in part because the cholinergic cells of this nucleus have not been identified in electrophysiological studies. Using intracellular recording in guinea-pig brain slices, we were able to record and fill with biocytin nucleus basalis neurons which were subsequently revealed by immunohistochemical staining to be choline acetyltransferase-positive and thus cholinergic. The cholinergic cells displayed rhythmic bursting activity mediated by a low-threshold calcium spike in vitro, which would endow them with a capacity for phasic (in addition to tonic) firing in vivo. By virtue of these different modes, cholinergic basalis neurons may accordingly deter or facilitate the cortical response to sensory input and may furthermore modulate the major frequencies of cortical activity across the different states of the sleep-waking cycle.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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