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J Neurophysiol. 2014 Jul 15;112(2):233-48. doi: 10.1152/jn.00848.2013. Epub 2014 Apr 16.

Cellular mechanisms for response heterogeneity among L2/3 pyramidal cells in whisker somatosensory cortex.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California; and.
  • 2Biophysics PhD Program, University of California, Berkeley, California.
  • 3Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California; and


Whisker deflection evokes sparse, low-probability spiking among L2/3 pyramidal cells in rodent somatosensory cortex (S1), with spiking distributed nonuniformly between more and less responsive cells. The cellular and local circuit factors that determine whisker responsiveness across neurons are unclear. To identify these factors, we used two-photon calcium imaging and loose-seal recording to identify more and less responsive L2/3 neurons in S1 slices in vitro, during feedforward recruitment of the L2/3 network by L4 stimulation. We observed a broad gradient of spike recruitment thresholds within local L2/3 populations, with low- and high-threshold cells intermixed. This recruitment gradient was significantly correlated across different L4 stimulation sites, and between L4-evoked and whisker-evoked responses in vivo, indicating that a substantial component of responsiveness is independent of tuning to specific feedforward inputs. Low- and high-threshold L2/3 pyramidal cells differed in L4-evoked excitatory synaptic conductance and intrinsic excitability, including spike threshold and the likelihood of doublet spike bursts. A gradient of intrinsic excitability was observed across neurons. Cells that spiked most readily to L4 stimulation received the most synaptic excitation but had the lowest intrinsic excitability. Low- and high-threshold cells did not differ in dendritic morphology, passive membrane properties, or L4-evoked inhibitory conductance. Thus multiple gradients of physiological properties exist across L2/3 pyramidal cells, with excitatory synaptic input strength best predicting overall spiking responsiveness during network recruitment.


cortex; map plasticity; somatosensory; synaptic mechanisms; vibrissa

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