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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Jun;103(6):3001-16. doi: 10.1152/jn.01053.2009. Epub 2010 Apr 7.

Response sensitivity of barrel neuron subpopulations to simulated thalamic input.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Box 603, 601 Elmwood Ave, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Our goal is to examine the relationship between neuron- and network-level processing in the context of a well-studied cortical function, the processing of thalamic input by whisker-barrel circuits in rodent neocortex. Here we focus on neuron-level processing and investigate the responses of excitatory and inhibitory barrel neurons to simulated thalamic inputs applied using the dynamic clamp method in brain slices. Simulated inputs are modeled after real thalamic inputs recorded in vivo in response to brief whisker deflections. Our results suggest that inhibitory neurons require more input to reach firing threshold, but then fire earlier, with less variability, and respond to a broader range of inputs than do excitatory neurons. Differences in the responses of barrel neuron subtypes depend on their intrinsic membrane properties. Neurons with a low input resistance require more input to reach threshold but then fire earlier than neurons with a higher input resistance, regardless of the neuron's classification. Our results also suggest that the response properties of excitatory versus inhibitory barrel neurons are consistent with the response sensitivities of the ensemble barrel network. The short response latency of inhibitory neurons may serve to suppress ensemble barrel responses to asynchronous thalamic input. Correspondingly, whereas neurons acting as part of the barrel circuit in vivo are highly selective for temporally correlated thalamic input, excitatory barrel neurons acting alone in vitro are less so. These data suggest that network-level processing of thalamic input in barrel cortex depends on neuron-level processing of the same input by excitatory and inhibitory barrel neurons.

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