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J Neurosci. 2017 May 24;37(21):5366-5377. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0364-17.2017. Epub 2017 Apr 27.

Nicotinic α4β2 Cholinergic Receptor Influences on Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortical Neuronal Firing during a Working Memory Task.

Author information

1
Department of Neurology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing 100034.
2
Department of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, and.
3
Department of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, and min.wang@yale.edu.

Abstract

The primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) subserves top-down regulation of attention and working memory abilities. Depletion studies show that the neuromodulator acetylcholine (ACh) is essential to dlPFC working memory functions, but the receptor and cellular bases for cholinergic actions are just beginning to be understood. The current study found that nicotinic receptors comprised of α4 and β2 subunits (α4β2-nAChR) enhance the task-related firing of delay and fixation cells in the dlPFC of monkeys performing a working memory task. Iontophoresis of α4β2-nAChR agonists increased the neuronal firing and enhanced the spatial tuning of delay cells, neurons that represent visual space in the absence of sensory stimulation. These enhancing effects were reversed by coapplication of a α4β2-nAChR antagonist, consistent with actions at α4β2-nAChR. Delay cell firing was reduced when distractors were presented during the delay epoch, whereas stimulation of α4β2-nAChR protected delay cells from these deleterious effects. Iontophoresis of α4β2-nAChR agonists also enhanced the firing of fixation cells, neurons that increase firing when the monkey initiates a trial, and maintain firing until the trial is completed. These neurons are thought to contribute to sustained attention and top-down motor control and have never before been the subject of pharmacological inquiry. These findings begin to build a picture of the cellular actions underlying the beneficial effects of ACh on attention and working memory. The data may also help to explain why genetic insults to α4 subunits are associated with working memory and attentional deficits and why α4β2-nAChR agonists may have therapeutic potential.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The acetylcholine (ACh) arousal system in the brain is needed for robust attention and working memory functions, but the receptor and cellular bases for its beneficial effects are poorly understood in the newly evolved primate brain. The current study found that ACh stimulation of nicotinic receptors comprised of α4 and β2 subunits (α4β2-nAChR) enhanced the firing of neurons in the primate prefrontal cortex that subserve top-down attentional control and working memory. α4β2-nAChR stimulation also protected neuronal responding from the detrimental effects of distracters presented during the delay epoch, when information is held in working memory. These results illuminate how ACh strengthens higher cognition and help to explain why genetic insults to the α4 subunit weaken cognitive and attentional abilities.

KEYWORDS:

in vivo single-cell recording; iontophoresis; nicotinic alpha4beta2 receptor; nonhuman primate; prefrontal cortex; working memory

PMID:
28450546
PMCID:
PMC5456113
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0364-17.2017
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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