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Exp Brain Res. 2006 Jul;172(3):397-415. Epub 2006 Jan 21.

Balancing bilateral sensory activity: callosal processing modulates sensory transmission through the contralateral thalamus by altering the response threshold.

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Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203, USA.


Rats tactually explore a nearly spherical space field around their heads with their whiskers. The information sampled by the two sets of whiskers is integrated bilaterally at the cortical level in an activity dependent manner via the corpus callosum. We have recently shown that sensory activity in one barrel field cortex (BFC) modulates the processing of incoming sensory information to the other BFC. Whether interhemispheric integration is dynamically linked with corticothalamic modulation of incoming sensory activity is an important hypothesis to test, since subcortical relay neurons are directly modulated by cortical neurons through top-down processes. In the present study, we compared the direct sensory responses of single thalamic relay neurons under urethane anesthesia before and after inactivating the BFC contralateral to a thalamic neuron. The data show that silencing one BFC reduces response magnitude in contralateral thalamic relay neurons, significantly and reversibly, in response to test stimuli applied to the principal whisker at two times response threshold (2T) intensity for each unit. Neurons in the ventral posterior medial (VPM) nucleus and the medial division of the posterior nucleus (POm) react in a similar manner, although POm neurons are more profoundly depressed by inactivation of the contralateral BFC than VPM neurons. The results support the novel idea that the subcortical relay of sensory information to one hemisphere is strongly modulated by activity levels in the contralateral as well as in the ipsilateral SI cortex. The mechanism of the modulation appears to be based on shifting the stimulus-response curves of thalamic neurons, thereby rendering them more or less sensitive to sensory stimuli. We conclude that global sensory processing is created by combining activity in each cerebral hemisphere and continually balancing the flow of information to cortex by adjusting the responsiveness of ascending sensory pathways.

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