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J Neurosci. 2008 Nov 12;28(46):11848-61. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3183-08.2008.

Contrasting the functional properties of GABAergic axon terminals with single and multiple synapses in the thalamus.

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Department of Neurovegetative Physiology, Centre de Recherche de Neurobiologie-Neurophysiologie de Marseille (CRN2M), CNRS-UMR 6231, University of Aix-Marseille II-III, 13397 Marseille Cedex 20, France.


Diverse sources of GABAergic inhibition are a major feature of cortical networks, but distinct inhibitory input systems have not been systematically characterized in the thalamus. Here, we contrasted the properties of two independent GABAergic pathways in the posterior thalamic nucleus of rat, one input from the reticular thalamic nucleus (nRT), and one "extrareticular" input from the anterior pretectal nucleus (APT). The vast majority of nRT-thalamic terminals formed single synapses per postsynaptic target and innervated thin distal dendrites of relay cells. In contrast, single APT-thalamic terminals formed synaptic contacts exclusively via multiple, closely spaced synapses on thick relay cell dendrites. Quantal analysis demonstrated that the two inputs displayed comparable quantal amplitudes, release probabilities, and multiple release sites. The morphological and physiological data together indicated multiple, single-site contacts for nRT and multisite contacts for APT axons. The contrasting synaptic arrangements of the two pathways were paralleled by different short-term plasticities. The multisite APT-thalamic pathway showed larger charge transfer during 50-100 Hz stimulation compared with the nRT pathway and a greater persistent inhibition accruing during stimulation trains. Our results demonstrate that the two inhibitory systems are morpho-functionally distinct and suggest and that multisite GABAergic terminals are tailored for maintained synaptic inhibition even at high presynaptic firing rates. These data explain the efficacy of extrareticular inhibition in timing relay cell activity in sensory and motor thalamic nuclei. Finally, based on the classic nomenclature and the difference between reticular and extrareticular terminals, we define a novel, multisite GABAergic terminal type (F3) in the thalamus.

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