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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 9;109(41):E2832-41. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206557109. Epub 2012 Sep 24.

Nucleus basalis-enabled stimulus-specific plasticity in the visual cortex is mediated by astrocytes.

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Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Although cholinergic innervation of the cortex by the nucleus basalis (NB) is known to modulate cortical neuronal responses and instruct cortical plasticity, little is known about the underlying cellular mechanisms. Using cell-attached recordings in vivo, we demonstrate that electrical stimulation of the NB, paired with visual stimulation, can induce significant potentiation of visual responses in excitatory neurons of the primary visual cortex in mice. We further show with in vivo two-photon calcium imaging, ex vivo calcium imaging, and whole-cell recordings that this pairing-induced potentiation is mediated by direct cholinergic activation of primary visual cortex astrocytes via muscarinic AChRs. The potentiation is absent in conditional inositol 1,4,5 trisphosphate receptor type 2 KO mice, which lack astrocyte calcium activation, and is stimulus-specific, because pairing NB stimulation with a specific visual orientation reveals a highly selective potentiation of responses to the paired orientation compared with unpaired orientations. Collectively, these findings reveal a unique and surprising role for astrocytes in NB-induced stimulus-specific plasticity in the cerebral cortex.

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