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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45717. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045717. Epub 2012 Sep 20.

Optogenetic stimulation of the corticothalamic pathway affects relay cells and GABAergic neurons differently in the mouse visual thalamus.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, VA, USA.


The dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) serves as the primary conduit of retinal information to visual cortex. In addition to retinal input, dLGN receives a large feedback projection from layer VI of visual cortex. Such input modulates thalamic signal transmission in different ways that range from gain control to synchronizing network activity in a stimulus-specific manner. However, the mechanisms underlying such modulation have been difficult to study, in part because of the complex circuitry and diverse cell types this pathway innervates. To address this and overcome some of the technical limitations inherent in studying the corticothalamic (CT) pathway, we adopted a slice preparation in which we were able to stimulate CT terminal arbors in the visual thalamus of the mouse with blue light by using an adeno-associated virus to express the light-gated ion channel, ChIEF, in layer VI neurons. To examine the postsynaptic responses evoked by repetitive CT stimulation, we recorded from identified relay cells in dLGN, as well as GFP expressing GABAergic neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) and intrinsic interneurons of dLGN. Relay neurons exhibited large glutamatergic responses that continued to increase in amplitude with each successive stimulus pulse. While excitatory responses were apparent at postnatal day 10, the strong facilitation noted in adult was not observed until postnatal day 21. GABAergic neurons in TRN exhibited large initial excitatory responses that quickly plateaued during repetitive stimulation, indicating that the degree of facilitation was much larger for relay cells than for TRN neurons. The responses of intrinsic interneurons were smaller and took the form of a slow depolarization. These differences in the pattern of excitation for different thalamic cell types should help provide a framework for understanding how CT feedback alters the activity of visual thalamic circuitry during sensory processing as well as different behavioral or pathophysiological states.

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