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Neuroscience. 2011 Dec 15;198:69-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.07.061. Epub 2011 Aug 2.

Intrinsic and integrative properties of substantia nigra pars reticulata neurons.

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1
Department of Pharmacology, University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis, TN 38163, USA. fzhou3@uthsc.edu

Abstract

The GABA projection neurons of the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) are output neurons for the basal ganglia and thus critical for movement control. Their most striking neurophysiological feature is sustained, spontaneous high frequency spike firing. A fundamental question is: what are the key ion channels supporting the remarkable firing capability in these neurons? Recent studies indicate that these neurons express tonically active type 3 transient receptor potential (TRPC3) channels that conduct a Na-dependent inward current even at hyperpolarized membrane potentials. When the membrane potential reaches -60 mV, a voltage-gated persistent sodium current (I(NaP)) starts to activate, further depolarizing the membrane potential. At or slightly below -50 mV, the large transient voltage-activated sodium current (I(NaT)) starts to activate and eventually triggers the rapid rising phase of action potentials. SNr GABA neurons have a higher density of I(NaT), contributing to the faster rise and larger amplitude of action potentials, compared with the slow-spiking dopamine neurons. I(NaT) also recovers from inactivation more quickly in SNr GABA neurons than in nigral dopamine neurons. In SNr GABA neurons, the rising phase of the action potential triggers the activation of high-threshold, inactivation-resistant Kv3-like channels that can rapidly repolarize the membrane. These intrinsic ion channels provide SNr GABA neurons with the ability to fire spontaneous and sustained high frequency spikes. Additionally, robust GABA inputs from direct pathway medium spiny neurons in the striatum and GABA neurons in the globus pallidus may inhibit and silence SNr GABA neurons, whereas glutamate synaptic input from the subthalamic nucleus may induce burst firing in SNr GABA neurons. Thus, afferent GABA and glutamate synaptic inputs sculpt the tonic high frequency firing of SNr GABA neurons and the consequent inhibition of their targets into an integrated motor control signal that is further fine-tuned by neuromodulators including dopamine, serotonin, endocannabinoids, and H₂O₂.

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