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J Neurosci. 2011 Nov 30;31(48):17480-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2262-11.2011.

Getting drowsy? Alert/nonalert transitions and visual thalamocortical network dynamics.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA.


The effects of different EEG brain states on spontaneous firing of cortical populations are not well understood. Such state shifts may occur frequently under natural conditions, and baseline firing patterns can impact neural coding (e.g., signal-to-noise ratios, sparseness of coding). Here, we examine the effects of spontaneous transitions from alert to nonalert awake EEG states in the rabbit visual cortex (5 s before and after the state-shifts). In layer 4, we examined putative spiny neurons and fast-spike GABAergic interneurons; in layer 5, we examined corticotectal neurons. We also examined the behavior of retinotopically aligned dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGNd) neurons, usually recorded simultaneously with the above cortical populations. Despite markedly reduced firing and sharply increased bursting in the LGNd neurons following the transition to the nonalert state, little change occurred in the spiny neurons of layer 4. However, fast-spike neurons of layer 4 showed a paradoxical increase in firing rates as thalamic drive decreased in the nonalert state, even though some of these cells received potent monosynaptic input from the same LGNd neurons whose rates were reduced. The firing rates of corticotectal neurons of layer 5, similarly to spiny cells of layer 4, were not state-dependent, but these cells did become more bursty in the nonalert state, as did the fast-spike cells. These results show that spontaneous firing rates of midlayer spiny populations are remarkably conserved following the shift from alert to nonalert states, despite marked reductions in excitatory thalamic drive and increased activity in local fast-spike inhibitory interneurons.

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