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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Sep;108(5):1403-29. doi: 10.1152/jn.00056.2012. Epub 2012 Jun 6.

Integration of cortical and pallidal inputs in the basal ganglia-recipient thalamus of singing birds.

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McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.


The basal ganglia-recipient thalamus receives inhibitory inputs from the pallidum and excitatory inputs from cortex, but it is unclear how these inputs interact during behavior. We recorded simultaneously from thalamic neurons and their putative synaptically connected pallidal inputs in singing zebra finches. We find, first, that each pallidal spike produces an extremely brief (∼5 ms) pulse of inhibition that completely suppresses thalamic spiking. As a result, thalamic spikes are entrained to pallidal spikes with submillisecond precision. Second, we find that the number of thalamic spikes that discharge within a single pallidal interspike interval (ISI) depends linearly on the duration of that interval but does not depend on pallidal activity prior to the interval. In a detailed biophysical model, our results were not easily explained by the postinhibitory "rebound" mechanism previously observed in anesthetized birds and in brain slices, nor could most of our data be characterized as "gating" of excitatory transmission by inhibitory pallidal input. Instead, we propose a novel "entrainment" mechanism of pallidothalamic transmission that highlights the importance of an excitatory conductance that drives spiking, interacting with brief pulses of pallidal inhibition. Building on our recent finding that cortical inputs can drive syllable-locked rate modulations in thalamic neurons during singing, we report here that excitatory inputs affect thalamic spiking in two ways: by shortening the latency of a thalamic spike after a pallidal spike and by increasing thalamic firing rates within individual pallidal ISIs. We present a unifying biophysical model that can reproduce all known modes of pallidothalamic transmission--rebound, gating, and entrainment--depending on the amount of excitation the thalamic neuron receives.

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