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Neuroscience. 2006 Dec;143(3):739-55. Epub 2006 Sep 26.

Electrophysiological characterization of neurons in the dorsolateral pontine rapid-eye-movement sleep induction zone of the rat: Intrinsic membrane properties and responses to carbachol and orexins.

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  • 1In Vitro Neurophysiology Section, Laboratory of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, VA Medical Center Brockton, Research 151C, 940, Belmont Street, Brockton, MA 02301, USA.


Pharmacological, lesion and single-unit recording techniques in several animal species have identified a region of the pontine reticular formation (subcoeruleus, SubC) just ventral to the locus coeruleus as critically involved in the generation of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. However, the intrinsic membrane properties and responses of SubC neurons to neurotransmitters important in REM sleep control, such as acetylcholine and orexins/hypocretins, have not previously been examined in any animal species and thus were targeted in this study. We obtained whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from visually identified SubC neurons in rat brain slices in vitro. Two groups of large neurons (mean diameter 30 and 27 mum) were tentatively identified as cholinergic (rostral SubC) and noradrenergic (caudal SubC) neurons. SubC reticular neurons (non-cholinergic, non-noradrenergic) showed a medium-sized depolarizing sag during hyperpolarizing current pulses and often had a rebound depolarization (low-threshold spike, LTS). During depolarizing current pulses they exhibited little adaptation and fired maximally at 30-90 Hz. Those SubC reticular neurons excited by carbachol (n=27) fired spontaneously at 6 Hz, often exhibited a moderately sized LTS, and varied widely in size (17-42 mum). Carbachol-inhibited SubC reticular neurons were medium-sized (15-25 mum) and constituted two groups. The larger group (n=22) was silent at rest and possessed a prominent LTS and associated one to four action potentials. The second, smaller group (n=8) had a delayed return to baseline at the offset of hyperpolarizing pulses. Orexins excited both carbachol excited and carbachol inhibited SubC reticular neurons. SubC reticular neurons had intrinsic membrane properties and responses to carbachol similar to those described for other reticular neurons but a larger number of carbachol inhibited neurons were found (>50%), the majority of which demonstrated a prominent LTS and may correspond to pontine-geniculate-occipital burst neurons. Some or all carbachol-excited neurons are presumably REM-on neurons.

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